Who Is The Cajun Navy?


The southeast Texas area has been the site of several stories of average people coming to the aid of their fellow human in the wake of devastation from Hurricane Harvey. Among the more visible groups to pitch in and help out those in need is a group known as the Cajun Navy.

Founded during Hurricane Katrina

The group now known as the Cajun Navy has its roots in a plea by former state Sen. Nick Gautreaux after seeing the destruction and suffering caused in the New Orleans area by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While watching the apocalyptic scenes play out on his television, Gautreaux received a text message from a former colleague in the Senate saying simply, “My people are dying. I need help.”

Upon receiving the desperate message, Gautreaux turned to local media to spread the word – if you have a boat, please rally at Acadiana Mall. Expecting a few dozen, Gautreaux was flabbergasted by the response when between 350 and 400 Louisianans mustered at the site with their private vessels.

Though no precise tally was made, the rag-tag group is estimated to have saved around 10,000 people from the hurricane’s devastation.

Voice To The Rescue!

Although a single text message in 2005 launched the Cajun Navy, the group relies on an app based upon voice communication in 2017. Developed 10 years ago by a Muscovite, Zello is a two-way radio app that is intended to mimic, if not replace, traditional walkie-talkies. The app first caught international attention in 2013 when Turkish protesters used it to communicate despite government censorship.

The Austin-based app is a favorite of the Cajun Navy due to the app’s ability to convey information faster and more thoroughly than any text-based program is able to do at present. The app also conveys non-verbal information to rescuers, including the sender’s emotional state and the fear their peril may have induced within them.

The Cajun Advantage

Perhaps the biggest reason the Cajun Navy is so effective is due to their location. “Cajun” is a corruption of the term “Acadia,” the name of what are now the maritime provinces of Canada. The area, which was once part of New France, was named for the Greek region of Arcadia, which, loosely translated, means “refuge” or “idyllic place.”

However, this area proved far less than idyllic as the British began their conquest of the area in 1710. Rather than swear allegiance to the British Crown, Acadians took advantage of the 18-month unrestricted emigration window offered after the Treaty of Paris in 1763 to travel first to Haiti and then on to present-day Louisiana which was still a French possession. These Acadians settled in the swamps and lowlands of the coastal regions, dropped the leading “A,” and became the Cajuns we know today.

Cajuns have been navigating the uncertain waters of the area for centuries, learning to read signs of submerged obstacles and areas of radically changing depths – much like the flooded areas in modern suburban and urban environs. They’ve been doing it with equipment specially suited for uncertain waters, too. Instead of deploying standard boats with propellers submerged in the water, the Cajun Navy can be seen effecting rescues in air boats, which are flat-bottomed boats propelled by powerful fans similar to those used on prop-driven aircraft.

Designed in 1943, air boats were first used as a way to navigate in Utah’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge without significantly disturbing the wildlife in the area. The design quickly found its way to the Gulf Coast, as residents of the area’s marshy regions discovered the vessels were perfectly suited for the environment.

[Featured Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]