50 years of saving lives at sea

Table Bay NSRI station commander, Quentin Botha.

As part of the National Sea Rescue Institute’s (NSRI) 50th anniversary celebrations, the organisation held an open day at its Table Bay station.

Station commander Quentin Botha said the milestone was an important one for the volunteer organisation that was started after a boat capsized in 1966 in Stilbaai and 17 fisherman drowned.

“There was a boat that went down and there were casualties. There was actually no rescue service at that stage.”

Mr Botha said every station was run by the organisation’s more than 1 000 volunteers. “At this station, we have about 40.”

But, he says, volunteers come and go at any given time.

“We run a trainee intake at least once a year. People don’t realise that it is quite a time commitment. Out of most intakes, we probably retain about five people,” said Mr Botha.

He said there were two vessels that serviced the station. “Because we’ve got a large vessel, our range can extend past hundred miles.”

For this reason, the crew at the station sometimes go on operations as far as Cape Point.

“There was an incident in the beginning of the year where there was a mayday call on a yacht which was 80 miles out.”

While the sailor of the yacht had been able to fix the problem, he neglected to cancel the mayday call.

“That does happen sometimes but it is very rare,” said Mr Botha.

“All of us here have understanding families because they know that this is a passion.”

Mr Botha said he had been involved in fishing and boating since the age of 6. “We’ve always been involved in the sea and always had that comfort of knowing that should something happen out at sea, someone would come and fetch us.

“Now that I’m older, I thought it would be nice to give that comfort to somebody else that is out at sea – and I’m able to do that.”

Mr Botha encouraged people who were interested to sign up as volunteers and take part in the training.

“They are welcome to come down to the station on weekends and chat to the crew. We have everyone from students to people in their sixties. Anybody is welcome to join, and if you’ve got a little to give, it’s better than nothing at all.”

He said the training took anything from six months to a year and that in the summer season, when there were a lot more people out on the water, they could get called out as many as four times on the same weekend.

“This year has been especially busy for us. To date, we’ve had more than 30 calls already,” said Mr Botha.

He said the NSRI’s Water Wise project saw it go to schools all around the Western Cape to educate pupils about water safety and awareness.

“Prevention is better than cure. If you can prevent someone from drowning through education, that’s far better than trying to save someone already in trouble.”

Mr Botha thanked the public for all their support.

“Without the support, we would have not been able to provide the services we do. Thanks to not just Cape Town but the whole country. Be safe out there and be responsible.”

Another volunteer at the station, Patrick van Eyssen, said events such as the open day were very important because “it is about making the public more aware of what rescue is about and what we actually do for the community of Cape Town and for all the international tourists”.

He joined the NSRI in 1969 and has been a station commander.

“I’ve been a skipper since 1972, and we just serve the community no matter what the conditions or who it is.”

Mr Van Eyssen said sea rescue was something you had to be passionate about.

“You’ve got to love the sea but also have to have a lot of respect. The sea can change in minutes and in half an hour it can totally change. That’s what makes it dangerous.”

It was important to not go to sea under the influence of any substance and to check weather conditions and let relatives or friends know where you were going.

“Respect the conditions out there. Don’t take chances.”

And, he said: “We are always looking for volunteers to join sea rescue.”

For more informationon the NSRI, contact the head office at 021 434 4011 or email info@searescue.org.za