Orientation for search and rescue operations
By MERV UNGER
When you live by the ocean, emergencies are inevitable – an active search and rescue system is indispensible. Being ready 365 days a year involves a lot of ongoing, regular and challenging training.
Last week, I spent an evening on a Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue vessel, getting my orientation after joining Nanaimo Station 27. My role is assisting the station media presence.
Getting on all the gear is an experience itself – water resistant pants, sweater, jacket, flotation vest, gloves and a radio-equipped helmet.
I joined the crew on the G.B. Meynell, a 28-foot open craft built by Titan Boats of Sydney. It is powered by two 225-horse-power Yamaha four-stroke outboards and can cruise at 32 knots with a top speed of 40-plus knots and is loaded with electronics. The equipment includes a dewatering pump, stretcher, first aid equipment, night vision binoculars, spotlights, hypothermia kit and towing equipment.
After leaving the station, with Coxswain Jerry Berry and crew members Claud Green and Tom Forrest, we got a warning we were about to pick up speed. “All secure?” was the call over the in-helmet speakers. If you’ve ever accelerated from zero to 35 knots in a single breath you’ll know the boat has get up and go.
Since it was a training exercise, we toured around Newcastle Island and the ship moorages east of Newcastle and Protection Islands and into Nanaimo Harbour. Two of the crew were training on ship operations and navigation electronics.
Then came a real callout. The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre reported a man in the water north of Nanaimo and asked for rescue personnel to respond. Being already on the water, our boat was the first to respond. After making sure everything was secure, the boat kicked into full throttle, on the way to the location. The JRCC operates under the Canadian Air Division (Canadian Armed Forces) and is manned by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG).
After about 10 minutes dashing to the scene, the call came to stand down, another vessel from French Creek had responded.
The Meynell patrolled around Five Finger Island area until it was joined by the J. C. McGregor, a Falkins Class with twin Volvo 435-horsepower turbo diesels, with Hamilton jet propulsion. It is a covered boat, with cabin, cruising at 30 knots and a top speed of 40. It is rollover capable and has room for three stretchers and is equipped with an infrared camera.
It was totally dark when the training, involving both craft, was to transfer a stretcher with a mock patient, from the McGregor to the Meynell while stationary. The McGregor had new volunteer members on board, so this was part of their training. It’s not easy to safely transfer something from one rocking boat to the next, even though the water was calm.
Then came the challenge, attempting to transfer the loaded stretcher from one craft to the other with both boats at 10 knots speed. After numerous attempts it became obvious the wake of the boats made it impossible to remain close enough to each other to effect a safe transfer.
Close to three hours later, the Meynell’s part of the exercise was complete while the McGregor remained on the water for more teaching and training in total darkness.
Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station 27 operates from its headquarters at Brechin Point with quick and easy access to local waters, with a typical response area covering Nanoose Bay to Dodd Narrows, Silva Bay and beyond.
Nanaimo has many boaters, kayakers, divers, a very active dragon boating community, as well as many campers and hikers who travel to surrounding islands. Sailors enjoy the challenging races that take place around Nanaimo, including the Van Isle 360 and the Southern Straits Yacht Race. In addition, Nanaimo has two ferry terminals and two float plane bases. Station 27 works hard to provide the highest standard of emergency response in this vibrant and active marine community.
Station 27 originated in the early 1990s with a handful of local boaters and divers. In 1992, a fatal marine accident raised awareness of the need for a trained fast-response unit. With a Boston Whaler donated by the City of Nanaimo, the small group became part of the city’s emergency program and in 1998 formed the Nanaimo Marine Rescue Society.
With the vision and hard work of dedicated members, a rescue station was established in 2008 at Brechin Boat Launch. With further great support from the community, Station 27 bought a Falkins Class Type II jet boat, in 2010.
Station 27 works with local ground Search and Rescue, RCMP, Nanaimo Port Authority, B.C. Ferries, Canadian Coast Guard, and neighboring RCM-SAR Stations. The station has participated in large-scale SAREX events, practicing massive-disaster response.
Nanaimo’s station is an integral part of the community and the 40-plus volunteer members are involved in community events like the Nanaimo Boat Show, the Nanaimo Marine Festival and Bathtub Races, the First Nations Tribal Journey, the Dragonboat Festival, parades and fireworks events, and many Nanaimo Yacht Club events.