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Texas Rescue Group Seeks Two-Stroke Motors

One person’s bygone outboard motor may be another’s tool for search and rescue. That’s what leaders at Texas Search and Rescue (TEXSAR) are hoping as it relates to the organization’s flood and swiftwater recovery and response efforts.

TEXSAR is a Texas-focused nonprofit search-and-rescue and emergency-response organization. It activates in partnership with, and at the request of, local and state law enforcement, fire fighters and emergency managers, the governor of Texas, Texas Rangers and relief organizations. TEXSAR members’ expertise includes firefighting, ground search and rescue, waterborne search and rescue, medical response, a dive team, drone capabilities and canine-assisted efforts.

Made up of volunteers who undergo extensive training and who commit to being on call at all times, TEXSAR claims some 325 active members who have responded to emergencies like the Memorial Day flooding on the Blanco River in 2015 and in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey just last year.

With regard to waterborne search and rescue—particularly in an urban setting—portability of watercraft is crucial for getting TEXSAR personnel to residents most in need. With that in mind, TEXSAR is asking marine industry partners and private citizens to help the organization procure older model Mercury outboard motors, specifically two-stroke, tiller-steered, short-shaft motors with 25 to 35 hp.

Matt Woodruff, vice president of public and government affairs for Kirby Corporation and a member of the board of directors for TEXSAR, said the desire for Mercury outboards is because of the layout of the Mercury-designed tillers. While other manufacturers place gear shifts on the engine itself, Mercury places throttle control and gear shifting all on the tiller.

“It’s a one-hand operation, and you never have to take your hand off the tiller,” Woodruff said of the Mercury outboard motors.

That’s particularly important, Woodruff said, in the case of a search-and-rescue effort where water may be rushing down a street littered with debris and snags, with vessel operators working to reach residents stranded in a nearby house.
Another point of concern when involved in waterborne search and rescue is the weight of the vessel. Woodruff said TEXSAR volunteers, when responding to an urban flooding emergency, might launch their boat and motor down a street for some distance, then encounter an area where the roadway is not flooded. They will then have to carry the boat through the shallow or dry patch, which could be 100 yards or more, then re-launch in deeper water.

“You do that a couple times during the day, and you’re going to wear your team out,” Woodruff said.

That’s why TEXSAR is looking specifically for two-stroke, short-shaft Mercury outboards with tiller steering in the 25 to 35 hp. range. That horsepower range gives response boats enough power to ply flooded neighborhoods and swift-moving waterways, while the older two-cycle design sheds weight and makes the boat easier to carry if needed.

Woodruff said TEXSAR leaders have had trouble finding the older two-cycle Mercury outboard motors on the used market. He hopes towing companies and other marine industry-related businesses might have older skiffs or decommissioned outboard motors on hand and be willing to sell or donate them to aid in TEXSAR’s mission.

“Maybe they don’t realize there’s a use for these older motors,” Woodruff said, later adding, “Post Harvey, we’ve had a lot of interest in our flood and swiftwater rescue team.”

Woodruff said TEXSAR is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. The group will buy the motors, unless owners wish to donate them, and will pay for shipping. TEXSAR will then overhaul the engines and get them ready to propel search and rescue teams aiding in future emergencies. TEXSAR has not put a cap on the number of motors the organization would like to acquire.

Woodruff said funds to procure the two-cycle, tiller-steered, short shaft Mercury outboards in the 25- to 35-horsepower range will come from a generous grant given to TEXSAR by the Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B after Hurricane Harvey.

For more information on TEXSAR or to reach out regarding a Mercury outboard motor, visit www.texsar.org or call 512-956-6727.

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