How do you explain the science behind search and rescue (SAR) to someone who has never done it? That is the exact question Destin Sandlin and his YouTube Channel, “Smarter Every Day,” is taking on as he begins an extended look at the U.S. Coast Guard. Sandlin, an aeronautical engineer, uses his platform to explore the science behind everyday things.
“I'm an engineer who likes to explore the world using science,” Destin said. “I enjoy finding experts and asking them interesting questions to try to better understand their area of expertise.”
Sandlin’s 30-minute deep dive episodes are an approachable look at complex topics like how helicopters and birds fly or a look at a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine. Each episode looks at a single concept across the broader topic at hand.
“I was already an avid consumer of YouTube content, and I followed the channel,” said Petty Officer Second Class John Michelli, a public affairs specialist at the time stationed in the Eight Coast Guard District. “I had seen military-related content on the channel before, and eventually I realized that Destin, the host, was located in my area.”
Michelli thought that a “Smarter Every Day” deep dive would fit the Coast Guard perfectly. He approached Sandlin in 2020 and pitched the idea of embedding Sandlin and his team at Coast Guard Station Destin, Fla., during their busy Memorial Day weekend. Filming would eventually grow to include Sector Mobile, Ala., Air Station New Orleans, and Station Rochester, N.Y., with more units being added in the near future.
“I think it's engaging, which I expected,” Michelli said. “What I didn't expect was their ability to turn something that seems mundane, a sector visit, a search pattern, and make it interesting! If these videos are able to generate millions of views in a day, I can't wait to see what they produce when it comes to the stuff that is traditionally more exciting to viewers, helicopters, and rescue swimming, etc.”
The first episode introduces the audience to the Coast Guard and the command and control structure used across the service. During the episode Sandlin brings the audience into the secure command center at the sector as they coordinate several SAR. Using in-the-moment and more formal interviews with command center staff and the Captain-of-the-Port, Sandlin shows a behind the scenes look at the role a Coast Guard sector plays in daily operations across the country.
The second episode brings Sandlin and his team to Stations Destin, Fla., and Rochester to look at how a station crew uses the search plans generated at the command center on the water.
“It was fun to be able to show people what we really do. When I joined the Coast Guard, I really didn’t have any idea what to expect,“ said Petty Officer Third Class Justin Lebeouf, a boatswains mate at Station Destin. “We got to demonstrate exactly what we do and how we help people. Our jobs often go unnoticed, but this gives people an inside look.”
Lebeouf and the crew of a Station Destin 45-foot response boat demonstrate a sector search for Sandlin. Also known as a Victor Sierra, the sector search looks like the international symbol for radiation when it’s drawn out on paper. The sector search is often used by Coast Guard crews to search a concentrated area for a person in the water. Though the pattern looks one way on paper in practice it actually looks much different.
Sandlin shows how the search pattern is extremely effective in the maritime environment where wind and currents affect objects in the water by introducing the audience to the concept of datum. Datum is a geographic point of reference, in this case how Coast Guard crews use a life ring and marker light to mark datum as a point of reference to steer on while conducting a sector search.
Crewmembers from Station Rochester, explain other search patterns to Sandlin and discuss the relationship between sector and the field.
“I've learned quite a bit about how the Coast Guard does business,” said Sandlin. “I find it interesting that every Coastie I interact with seems to wear many hats. In other branches I've found that people tend to specialize in one specific area of expertise, but in the Coast Guard I've found that people have to be a jack of all trades.”
Both episodes have received thousands of comments and together have more than five million views and those numbers continue to climb.
“A few nights ago, I went to a party where I mentioned I was a Coast Guard veteran,” Michelli said. “A guy spoke up and said he had just watched a YouTube video on how the Coast Guard does search patterns. This was the Smarter Every Day video! He thought it was fascinating, and then commented that if he could do it all over again, he would have joined the Coast Guard. That's the sort of reaction I was hoping for.”
Viewers can expect more videos in the deep dive series as Sandlin and his team work through the footage they shot and as they visit more Coast Guard units in the coming months.