All shipshape on the sea side

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 28/02/2013
coastguard
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ

Water world: Nelson Coastguard safety officer Joe Crick with the Nelson Coastguard rescue vessel.

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Joe Crick didn't have to think twice about community service - it's something in the family. But where his father, brother, brother-in-law and other family members became volunteer firefighters, he chose Nelson Coastguard.

A commercial fisherman for 30 years and currently factory manager aboard the Talley's deepsea trawler Amaltal Atlantis, 45-year-old Mr Crick said he thought about joining a fire brigade, "but I love being at sea".

So when his typically six-week work trips are over he turns his attention to the Coastguard out of a desire to "give something back" during his six weeks ashore.

One of under 30 active Nelson members, he makes himself available for callouts around the clock, always ready to be paged at his Stoke home.

He also attends training sessions on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings and says that in spite of his long experience at sea, the Coastguard training is different and valuable.

He has a fat manual which includes everything from outboard maintenance to first aid, GPS navigation to towing instructions. The training includes sections on co-ordinating with aerial searches, and working with police.

"It's best if we get the boat out on the water - that way, the more you're getting used to handling it in different situations. We don't get the same people turning up all the time, so you've got to get used to working with each other, and who's best at doing what."

Like him, some Coastguard volunteers have extensive sea time in their backgrounds. Others haven't. The comprehensive training provides for all levels of experience, he says.

A minimum of three crew members, including a Coastguard-qualified skipper, are needed to take out the 8.6 metre Naiad rigid inflatable rescue boat, and Mr Crick says they can be casting off within 15 or 16 minutes of being paged. The more serious callouts take a few more minutes to prepare for, and the crew is likely to number between four and six for those jobs.

The boat, powered by two 200 horsepower outboards, is permanently moored close to the Coastguard's headquarters at Sealord Rescue Centre on Wakefield Quay.

Mr Crick says while quite a few callouts are to tow in boats that have suffered engine failure, it's a mistake to think that Tasman Bay and the top of the south always offer benign conditions for boating and sailing.

He recalls one trip when a large yacht was several kilometres offshore and struggling to make headway towards the port in a strong wind and heavy swell, with very seasick adults and children on board.

That one ended safely but could easily have become more serious.

Other callouts that stick in his mind are "the stupid ones", like the time before Christmas when two young men flipped their boat on the northeastern side of Pepin Island. "They had all the safety gear, but they weren't wearing any of it."

The same day, after retrieving that boat, there was a second callout to the ocean side of the Boulder Bank near the Glen, to a boat without engine power.

"Five young guys, out in dad's nice new boat - five guys, three lifejackets, nobody wearing one and they were about 15 metres from going on the rocks when we turned up. We think they ran out of fuel."

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He says that lifejackets might make boaties feel hot and uncomfortable but they should always be worn when a boat is under power.

"In Nelson, most of the time it's nice, flat, calm weather and people have got the hammer down - but it doesn't take much, even the bow wave off another boat, to knock you around. Someone can lose their balance and fall straight over the side of the boat."

He doesn't mind being called out at any time or in any weather.

"It's just something you've got to be prepared to do if you volunteer for it. If you put your name forward to help someone in the community, you've got to be prepared to do it 100 per cent."

The rewards include the social side of the Coastguard. "We have a bit of a laugh, there's always that too - but for me, I just enjoy helping."

He notes that while some people may think the Coastguard is government-funded both nationally and locally, it's actually fully self-funded and relies on lotteries, associate memberships and other sources to keep offering its service. Its $100,000 boat, Coastguard Rescue, is still being paid for.

"I know that some people probably think that we don't need a Coastguard, but if we save one life a year, all the time and effort put into it is worth it."

Nelson Coastguard is one of 67 Coastguard New Zealand units. For more information or to inquire about membership, contact PO Box 5131, Port Nelson 7043, phone 021 824 583 or email ncgsecretary@gmail.com.

- Nelson

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