The welcome sight boaties in distress on Moreton Bay would most like to see.
It was recently the turn of McDowall local Kel Bennett to come under the Village Buzz spotlight when I met him to discuss his work with the Redcliffe flotilla of the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard Association (AVCGA).
The flotilla, known for short as QF3, is one of a network of coast guard stations across Australia concerned with educating the boating community and providing assistance to boaties in distress. The AVCGA operates a network of flotillas around our coastline and some inland waters as well.
Inside the crew cabin of a Redcliffe Coast Guard rescue vessel.
QF3 covers the northern region of Moreton Bay and is on permanent standby to come to the rescue of people in distress out on the water. The flotilla maintains a listening watch on the marine distress radio frequencies from 6am till 6pm during the week with longer hours across the weekend. Members also respond to emergencies 24/7 and work in with other flotillas and the Water Police units for critical events.
Personnel are rostered on duty at the flotilla base every weekend of the year to provide a faster response to emergencies as more boats are out on the water at those times. The philosophy which underpins coast guard operations is to try and prevent emergency situations before they happen by educating the public on marine safety.
The Coast Guard tows another craft to safety.
One service which QF3 is sometimes called upon to provide is when somebody needs urgent medical evacuation from one of the bay islands. In a recent incident a patient in need of medical assistance was evacuated from a Tangalooma Island beach in conditions that were too stormy to allow the volunteers to moor their boat to the jetty and, therefore, a beach retrieval was carried out.
Kel’s background is in the aviation industry where he has worked since getting a part-time job with a crop spraying firm in Central NSW while still at school. Since then he has worked in many roles in aviation maintenance including flying into remote properties to maintain and service aircraft and mustering helicopters.
At the moment he works at maintaining the aircraft which calibrate and verify airport navigation systems across Australia and Vietnam. Given this strong aviation background, I was surprised that he had become so involved with the coast guard over the years and he explained that he had joined to increase his knowledge about boating and marine safety after deciding to upgrade from a tinnie to a larger boat. Aspiring coast guard members are invited to register their interest on the website and, if successful, are inducted into the organisation in one of three intakes each year. They go through a rigourous training process to enable them to cope with any emergencies they might face while on duty including skills such as boat handling, boat maintenance and radio procedure.
"Joining the coast guard is not just sailing about on the weekends and having a great time," he said.
In fact, a lot of hard work and long hours go into running the operation, maintaining its vessels to commercial standards and fundraising. The latter is vitally important because the AVCGA receives minimul government funding and is almost totally dependent on fees, sponsorships and donations from the public to continue their good work.
The AVCGA offers a Marine Assist service which boaties can join for an annual fee that covers them for any assistance they might require while boating on the local waterways. They also raise funds by offering training in first aid and operating marine radios as well as by holding raffles, regular sausage sizzles and the like.
One very unusual service they offer is to facilitate the scattering of a loved one's ashes at sea. They will transport mourners to the desired location aboard one of their vessels and will even say some words during the ceremony if requested.
Coast guard members will typically spend at least one weekend a month on duty but people who thrive on hard work and a challenge will find their service in the AVCG very satisfying.
Past and current issues of the AVCGA magazine are available for download and give a very good idea of the huge scope of its operation. Just one example in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue was the remarkable story of a fisherman who had to be rescued after a 2.7m Great White shark joined him in his small fishing boat.