Volunteer organisations are an important part of Australia’s society. They provide an enormous range of services and have become an integral part of our lives, and in most cases we take their priceless services for granted.
One organisation that is now recognised as an essential service, yet taken for granted is the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol. It is hard to believe this important and life saving service is voluntary, as they monitor the movements of all vessels within their designated areas.
The Coastal Patrol have several functions. They are the first to be called for assistance by troubled nautical lovers, oversee rescues, and provide essential information and training services for the population who cruise internally or externally around our waterways.
The Manning Valley and Great Lakes areas are served by two Coastal Patrols, located at Harrington and Forster–Tuncurry.
The Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol in this area began in 1989 and is part of the oldest volunteer marine rescue organisation in Australia. Beginning in the 1930s, the service was established after many countries in Europe became concerned about the possibility of war.
Based on a service first used at the start of the 20th century in Britain, the Australian model was established in March 1937 by four experienced merchant and naval people: Captain Maurice Blackwood; H Nobbs; W Giles; and Commander Rupert Long OBE, Director of Naval Intelligence, to cover the 12,000 nautical miles of our coastline. The service began with unmarked boats crewed by volunteer seamen, who had a thorough knowledge of the local waterways.
The service established strong links with the local police, the military, and maritime authorities to provide a base of information in matters of national security. During World War II the Coastal Patrol charted waterways, patrolled, searched for submarines, and were part of the training for Australia’s role in the war. After the Second World War, the civilian service began to provide their search and rescue roles, as we know it today. Its network of volunteers quickly grew with former sailors, military personnel, serving and former members of the Water Police, members of other service organisations, and the general public. Since 1945 it is estimated more than 50 million duty hours across the country have been clocked up.
The Forster-Tuncurry division has 90 members and covers an area of 600 nautical miles, operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with their peak demand between 5.30am to 4pm (when two operators man operations).
Divisional Commander of the Forster-Tuncurry branch, Graeme Parker says there are many reasons why personnel need to be assisted and rescued.
“One of the prime reasons is mechanical failure, which is attributed to a lack of maintenance. Boat owners need to be aware motors in boats are similar to cars – they need to be serviced. Would you believe one of the major reasons for assistance is that owners run out of fuel? Also, many owners do not secure their boats correctly, and we also have the element of stupidity.”
Approaching our peak season and with many tourists enjoying the beauty of our waterways, Commander Parker has a few tips for our nautical personnel: “It is important that everyone logs on with our base. If you log on, then we know the general direction you are heading; things can happen on the water and it makes a search easier.”
Weather plays an important part in enjoying your day, and as you log on the Coastal Patrol will provide all the latest weather information – including any pending warnings of approaching adverse weather.
The service urges all boat owners to check every piece of equipment prior to casting off: “It is essential to check that your life jackets are intact, that you are carrying plenty of water because of dehydration, adequate supplies of food and fuel, and we recommend that all boats are fitted with a G.P.S. unit.”
Enjoying the water is not an easy task, with boat owners needing to obey the many simple and common sense rules that apply. It is important to note that people in charge of boats are subject to similar laws as vehicle drivers and can be subjected to a breath test.
Procedures to obtain a license for a boat owner/captain will change on January 1st, which will restrict the personnel allowed to steer. The New Year will start with the requirements for all pending/new owners, who will now have to spend a certain amount of hours at the helm. Similar to gaining a pilot’s license, all new licensees must pass certain tests before any application is approved.
This new innovation will see new applicants accompanied by an instructor, who must have held a license for more than three years. The Forster-Tuncurry service provides courses and instructors every third Monday of the month to comply with the new license requirements, which are part of the many fundraising activities organised by the local branch.
Being a volunteer organisation, fund raising is an important agenda – something the local service is striving to improve. Apart from being granted some funding from government authorities, the Coastal Patrol battles to maintain a balanced financial ledger and to provide its essential service.
“We need a good cash injection of funds for several reasons. One is to have better facilities for our two craft, as the current moorings are inadequate.” The impressive building on the foreshore at Forster has excellent facilities to hold functions, however they have been unable to pursue this revenue source.
Commander Parker has been negotiating unsuccessfully to seek permission from the Department of Lands and Great Lakes Council to open the doors to this financial stream. “It would be a good fundraiser for us, however negotiations are at a stalemate.”
Some financial relief is forthcoming in the new year, when the service will amalgamate with other marine organisations and will operate under the one banner, New South Wales Marine Service. “Once established, the NSW Government will provide us with uniforms and cover fuel costs. This will give us an injection of funds that will amount to about 40% of our overall expenses.”
The Coastal Patrol has earned plenty of international and national recognition at the highest levels, because they never waver from their slogan – ‘Safety of Life’. Not all their work is human related. Last year in Victoria the Coast Guard had a rescue of a different element, when it gave CPR to a drowning koala.
Members noticed what they thought was a dog in the sea during a training exercise, but to their surprise when they hauled it from the water they realised it was a koala. The CPR worked wonders, as the koala was revived and returned to its natural habitat.
Every boat owner in the region should be aware of new regulations and use the Coastal Patrol every time they cast off. To help them keep you safe, please join this wonderful organisation. For $40 a year membership, it will help maintain this essential service.
So when you head out on the water, please check in with your local Coastal Patrol, where you can have at your finger tips all the latest weather and boating conditions by contacting 02 6554 5458.