Tending to buoys on the Hudson River | Always Ready: Inside the Coast Guard

If you're ever on the Hudson River, you've seen buoys bobbing in the water. From far away, you would never guess they are so big and heavy. But believe it or not, these beacons of navigation can weigh up to 10,000 pounds apiece.

So who puts them there? That would be none other than the U.S. Coast Guard.

Ice buoys line the river in the winter. But in the springtime, the Coast Guard swaps out those sturdy ice buoys for spring buoys equipped with lights that are easier to see, according to Lt. Torrey Jacobsen, the commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Katherine Walker. And it can be dangerous work, he said, because of the size of the buoys and the hazards in the water.

The small crew of engineers, operators, and safety techs swap out a buoy and make sure the chains are secure in about 30 minutes. On this day, I suited up and joined the crew on the deck to help with the work.

I was told that the newbies wear green helmets. The blue helmets are for the more-seasoned crew. And the white helmets are for the supervisors who have been here the longest.

The crew on deck put me right to work handing me a giant awkward stick. My stick definitely didn't come close to touching the buoy but that's okay. Would I have better luck with a hammer? I gave it a shot but had to let someone take over.

After the chain on the spring buoy was secure, we lowered it into the water. Actually, crane operator Giovanna Durand did the lowering. She is the ship's machine tech and one of four women aboard the Katherine Walker. Not a lot of women are assigned to her type of job but the crew works well together, she said.

It is more than just about working together. When you spend five days and nights a week on a ship, you become a family devoted to protecting the public, the nation's ports, and each other.

So what grade did I earn for my work? An A-minus.