Written by Walter T. Ham IV
From American ports to European capitals, a senior U.S. Coast Guard civilian has guided navigation standards and helped to make mariners safer around the world.
Mike Sollosi, the chief of the U.S Coast Guard Navigation Standards Division, retired after 42 years of uniformed and civilian service during a ceremony at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., May 29, 2019.
Sollosi led the division that manages navigation standards, navigation equipment standards, navigation rules, targeted navigation studies, coastal and spatial marine planning, and Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) policy for the U.S. Coast Guard.
A world-renowned expert, Sollosi also shaped navigation standards at the London-based International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France-based International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA).
Sollosi served on the U.S. delegation for IMO’s Safety of Navigation Subcommittee for several years before taking over as the subcommittee chairman for five years.
At IALA, Sollosi was elected as the chairman of the Vessel Traffic Services subcommittee. The United States has 12 VTS Centers where teams of Coast Guardsmen and civilians serve as the Coast Guard equivalent of “sea traffic controllers” and help to guide mariners through the nation’s busiest waterways.
Sollosi led the charge to reorganize the Vessel Traffic Service program following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. He applied his VTS experience to influence international standards.
“Mike’s tenure as the IALA VTS committee chairman had a significant influence on the international community,” said Bruce Riley, a former U.S. Coast Guard civilian who also recently retired after working with Sollosi for decades. “Under his leadership, important guidance has been delivered that has had a lasting effect on VTS operations.”
Burt Lahn also worked with Sollosi for many years, as both a U.S. Coast Guard officer and a civilian.
“I had the unique opportunity to work under his leadership as he executed the Congressional mandate for the U.S. Coast Guard to rebuild the VTS program,” said Lahn, who manages the Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment program in the Navigation Standards Division.
Early in his career, Sollosi served as a Coast Guard officer and learned his profession sailing aboard buoy tenders on Alaskan and North Atlantic waters.
As a senior civilian at Headquarters, he leveraged his many years of experience to make American waterways safer, more efficient and more resilient.
Sollosi “touched nearly every facet of the mariner’s world of work” from Vessel Traffic Services and Aids to Navigation to ship routing measures and equipment standards, said Riley. “He has shaped or guided procedures or processes along the way.”
Lahn and Riley praised Sollosi’s leadership and the impact he had inside and outside of the Coast Guard.
“He allowed his staff to think outside the box and pursue innovative ideas and processes to achieve the Coast Guard’s objective to create a resilient, effective and internationally recognized and revered U.S. Marine Transportation System,” said Lahn.
“I’ve had other very good bosses over my 31 years in civilian service but Mike was the best,” said Riley.
Rear Adm. John P. Nadeau, the former U.S. Coast Guard assistant commandant for prevention policy, said Sollosi had made an enduring impact and contributed to maritime safety around the globe.
“On behalf of all mariners worldwide, thank you,” said Nadeau.
Sollosi, an Annandale, Virginia native, thanked the Coast Guardsmen and Coast Guard civilians he worked with over the last four decades.
“The list of people to whom I owe a debt of gratitude is too long to recite,” said Sollosi. “I just hope I was able to repay their trust and support in some way.”
“I feel deeply that VTS, Aids to Navigation and the pursuit of navigation safety is noble and rewarding work – including the part about writing regulations and technical specifications,” said Sollosi. “I’m convinced it saves lives.”