By John W. Schoen Senior Producer
msnbc.com
updated 2/16/2006 2:22:34 PM ET 2006-02-16T19:22:34

She's tasked with countering numerous threats to the smooth flow of commerce in and around New York harbor -- from ice floes to terrorists to broken bouys.

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And while the U.S. Coast Guard has been patrolling these waters for over 200 years, the technology they use today is 21st Century. A joystick-operated computer tied to the Global Position Satellite navigation system can hold the cutter within a few meters of a given position, even in high winds or current. Systems and machinery are monitored and controlled from the bridge and a nervous system of sensors alerts the crew to anything out of the ordinary, from a hydraulic leak to a puddle of water in the bilge.

But what hasn't changed is the dedication of the people who work on board — day or night, rain or shine, blistering hot or freezing cold. The ship is named for the keeper of the Robbins Reef Light in New York Harbor who also was the widow of the keeper who died of pneumonia in 1886. Katherine Walker retired in 1919 after 33 years tending the kerosene lamp, looking out for ships in distress and raising two children, rowing them to shore every day to attend school.

Today, the Katherine Walker's crew has an even bigger job. But some say they don't look at what they do as a job.

"It's not even close to being just a job," said the ship's Commaning Officer, Lieut. Brian Donahue. "It’s a service. And darn near every day, it's an adventure."

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