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Rescue roll


Cheesy grins at the SLSNZ ceremony in Wellington last year

SLSNZ Rescue of the Year, April 2003.
On Sunday 20th April 2003, weather and surf conditions at Ocean Beach were not going to encourage the public to venture far from home. The lifeguards of Mako patrol resigned themselves to a day of self entertainment, swimming and IRB training. The weather was overcast with periodic heavy showers, the wind had quite a bite to it; the sea was still warm but really messy, the surf at times was coming in at around a metre. The swell further out was running at 1-1.5 metres.

At approximately 11.45, Stew Kahn, situated up at the club house on spotting duty observed a lone fishing boat drifting around the southern point of Ocean Beach. He continued to monitor its progress for a few minutes and noticed that the sole occupant was attempting to paddle the 3.6m boat with a single oar. At this point he signalled to the lifeguards on the beach who had become aware of the boat but could not get a clear visual due to the swell and rain. Following a brief radio conversation the IRB was launched with Tai Kahn, IRB Operator, Rob Howes as crewman and Mark Andrews who was the PC.
The fishing boat was now entering the surf zone some 150m off the beach; as the IRB closed in, the immediate assessment established that the vessel needed stabilising in order to limit the threat of a swamping and the possible risk to the occupant. To do this an improvised sea anchor would be required so Rob and Tai secured a rope to the front of the boat and entered the water with their fins on to haul the bow around to face the swell and waves. The fisherman explained that his engine wouldn't start and that he had drifted and paddled from Guano Rock, quite a distance in those conditions. He was totally saturated and wearing only a T shirt. Mark Andrews had taken over as the IRB operator and assisted the fisherman into the IRB having first ensured he put on his neglected life jacket. Rob and Tai maintained the boat's position in the water whilst Mark rushed the fisherman to the beach in the IRB where Nicola Howes met them and assessed that he was suffering from hypothermia. He was immediately taken to the club house where he was dried, given fresh clothing and wrapped in blankets. Hot tea was also provided.

Whilst the fisherman was being dealt with, Rob and Tai had towed the boat out further and were attempting to swim it to a safer area for beaching. Mark returned with Sharleen Thorburn in the IRB to continue the tow.
Having identified the best location to beach the boat, the IRB towed the boat into the surf with Rob and Tai trailing from the stern using their fins as rudders in an effort to keep the empty boat straight. A successful beaching was achieved.

The fisherman was continually monitored and recovered well, a friend was contacted and collected both the very humble and grateful fisherman and his boat.
Although executed extremely efficiently, there was a considerable degree of skill and quick thinking involved in carrying out this rescue. Visibility was poor; sea conditions were far from ideal; the boat had to be stabilised before the rescue of its occupant could take place as a capsize would create an even greater problem, loose fishing lines, ropes and chains. The fast decision making by the lifeguards and their willingness to put themselves in a calculated position of danger so that the patient could be safely removed from the hostile environment was a credit to their skills and professionalism. Without doubt, had the boat not been seen and a rescue performed a fatality would have resulted.

The quick thinking, slick operation and subsequent treatment of the patient contributed to the fast recovery of both patient and boat.