Written by Kerrie Alexander
A day out boating on Fraser Coast waters conjures up images of soaking up the sunshine, catching a feast of fish and taking a dip in our pristine waters.
However, for Volunteer Marine Rescue Hervey Bay it can be a vastly different experience.
Meet Commodore Graeme Davies who has been with the service for six years and – like all the other incredibly passionate volunteers – is dedicated to saving lives at sea in predominantly not-so-favourable conditions.
“The difference between VMR and recreational vessels is that ‘rec vessels’ go out in the best of weather, stay in waters that are safe and maintain a healthy distance from other vessels,” Graeme said.
“Rescue vessels, as a result of the tasks they are called to undertake, are often called out in less than favourable weather conditions and often those boats that are in trouble are in shallow water or challenging places.
“We have to go into those conditions to render assistance, and to do that we have to get alongside the boat or at least get it on a tow rope.
“That is why we have to have well-trained crew.”
The volunteers of the not-for-profit rescue organisation each have their role to play, with radio operators on location in the Urangan base for 12 hours a day, from 6am to 6pm, 365 days a year.
The afterhours radio is monitored by a radio room in Gladstone and calls for help from Fraser Coast boaties between 6pm and 6am will activate local radio operators, skippers, and crew.
Graeme said the crews can be faced with everything from simple activations to life and death scenarios and training is vital to ensure the safety of both the lives they are saving and the rescue team.
On average, the crews are called out 300-400 times a year, including medical evacuations off K’gari (Fraser Island) assisting Queensland Ambulance Service and search and rescue operations with Queensland Police Service.
“Typically, we will get two to three search and rescue activities in conjunction with Queensland water police each year.
“Either someone is in trouble, and we don’t know where they are, or someone didn’t come back in time, and we have to go looking for them and it’s a structured search and rescue exercise.”
Radio operators and crews undertake separate courses that are both nationally recognised qualifications that give them the skills and knowledge required to be effective in their role.
The radio operators learn VHF radio and the VMR systems, then take on supervised shifts in the Urangan VMR office before being authorised for operational duties.
The crew train in both theory and practical skills to give them a broad knowledge of how to be safe on a boat and how to be part of a rescue vessel crew.
“There are assessments to make sure they can be safe both on the vessel and if something terrible happens and they need to look after themselves in the water, they can.
They also learn all the things we need to do on a rescue vessel like how to tow a boat, how to tie up alongside them, how to conduct a medical evacuation.
“Once they are authorised, they are what we call competent crew.
“Then there’s opportunities for advancement to senior crew and with more experience and more training they can become a rescue vessel skipper.”
Graeme said there’s plenty of reward for doing the hard yards with training including putting a nationally recognised certificate with your resume and putting the training to use to help boaties in need.
“The one word I would use is ‘satisfying’,” Graeme said.
“More often than not there are people on board that boat that are concerned for their welfare and safety.
“When they see our boat pull up alongside with rescue written along the side, they know they are in good hands and that’s a very satisfying feeling knowing that they feel that way about us.
“We see an instant look of relief.”
Graeme recalls one activation that he’ll never forget.
“There was a young family a fair way up the island that had got into trouble in a little tinnie, and it was already dark, the sun had set well and truly, and they had a young child on board when they called for assistance.
“They were on the last dregs of their mobile phone battery and didn’t have all the right safety equipment with them and the only light that they had was on their mobile phone.
“When we came alongside them and seeing the look on the mum’s face, knowing that we were there and that they were in safe hands, that was a particularly special moment for me.
“That is without a doubt the thing that brings people through our gates to join and the thing that keeps people with us is that sense of provision of service. “There’s a great sense of satisfaction every time we do it.”
Graeme said a major aspect to successfully funding MRHB is for those boaties in the community to take up an annual membership. For a small annual fee, boaties receive on-water assistance (free up to a certain value) if they break down or get in trouble.
Marine Rescue Hervey Bay will always respond to boaties requiring assistance whether they are members or not, but due to the expenses involved, non- members pay to help cover the costs of the capability.
“By joining MRHB in effect you have RACQ on the water.”
Graeme encourages all boaties, whether members or not, to log-on with Marine Rescue Hervey Bay either by radio (VHF Channel 73) or by phone (07 4128 9666) before you head out on the water. Boaties travelling to Bundaberg can also log on with Bundy VMR by phoning 4159 4349.
“When you log-on, you nominate a time you plan to be back and if you don’t come back, efforts start being made to find out where you are.
“It’s also vital that you have a radio and its working … if you don’t log on or your radio doesn’t work then we don’t know if you are in trouble or where you are.”
MRHB recommend not relying on mobile phones when out on the water as coverage is not reliable once you head out into the bay.
This radio monitoring is a free service that could save your life.
50 YEARS OF VMR IN 2022
The organisation has come a long way since starting in 1972, when a group of like-minded people used their own vessels as rescue boats.
Turn the clock forward 50 years and the team took possession of a $1.4 million purpose-built rescue vessel 12 months ago.
The 12-metre vessel was five years in the planning with a huge amount of research being undertaken by a special team and presently is the only one of its kind in Queensland, and possibly Australia. The team did a serious amount of fundraising during that time to help pay for the boat, relied on community support, and an incredibly generous donation of $400,000 by Hand Heart Pocket the Charity of the Freemasons Queensland. To celebrate the 50 th anniversary of MRHB, the team have published a book with stories and photos of current and former volunteers’ adventures.
For more information about this vital service and how to get a copy of the book, follow them on Facebook or visit the website at marinerescueherveybay.org.au.