A desire to help people and a great love for the ocean led 20-year-old Amy Forster to volunteer for the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).
“One of the things I love about the NSRI is how inclusive it is and how it caters to all ages,” said Forster, who is a crew member at NSRI Station 3 in Table Bay. “There are aspects that everyone can get involved in, whether you love the water and getting that adrenaline rush, or if you prefer to feel a bit more grounded on a bigger boat.”
The NSRI is a non-profit organisation staffed by volunteers who are on standby day and night throughout the year to ensure water safety is maintained and people in distress are rescued on both coastal and inland waters.
Amy, who is from Lakeside, has always loved the water. Growing up in Knysna, she was always near the lagoon, canoeing and swimming. Her family also owned a boat and she said she had many happy memories of their adventures looking at fish in the ocean.
“When I moved to Cape Town, my playground only got bigger and that’s when I started surfing, which only increased my love for the ocean.”
She was first introduced to the NSRI three years ago, when she helped a family member at a market. “The NSRI had a booth where you could donate, look at pamphlets and chat to the crew to find out more about the organisation. I was really intrigued so I went over to get a better idea and the rest is history.”
As an organisation, the NSRI are not only looking for volunteers to go to sea, but also need people who are willing and able to contribute in a range of different ways.
“There are even things to do that don’t involve going near the ocean such as driving the rescue vehicle or managing the radios at the base. There is something for everyone.”
However, she said, her main focus was to be a rescue swimmer and a class three coxswain, which would allow her to be at the helm of a nine-metre or smaller size vessel.
In her three years with the NSRI, Amy has accumulated over 150 volunteer hours.
Her crew typically trains on the Saturday of their duty week, and Amy regularly practises tying knots.
The NSRI had remained fully operational throughout lockdown, despite the public not being able to visit beaches.
NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon, said due to the public restrictions, rescue operations decreased substantially.
However, the NSRI has been fully operational during the past lockdown levels and were on standby and actively engaged in operations, from medical evacuations to ocean rescues (mainly fishermen), boats in jeopardy and whale disentanglements, and even mercy missions to transport equipment and supplies to areas by sea.
He said the NSRI were issued standard operating procedures to all rescue stations, as well as guidelines and protective gear for the safety of NSRI crew.
“All precautions and protocols as directed by the Department of Health are being observed and adhered to during rescue operations and this includes operations involving patient evacuations off of ships.”
The station commander NSRI Station 3, Table Bay of Marc De Vos said the lockdown has pushed stations to think out of the box to ensure that the NSRI maintains 100% operational readiness. “Stations have adapted to ensure that theoretical training happens virtually, and practical training and maintenance happen in a tightly controlled, staggered fashion, to maximise social distancing.
“It also means procuring and training with a new range of personal protective equipment, for both crew and casualties. Although these new operating procedures have taken some getting used to, they, along with steady guidance from the Institute’s senior leadership, have helped to ensure that the lockdown had no impact on emergency response.”
Amy has plans to be a Grade 3 teacher, and believes the youth of South Africa should be active within their communities, “which is why I love being a volunteer and helping others”.
“As young South Africans, we are the future and have the opportunity to be the change,” she said. “I hope to inspire more young people to get involved in their communities and to help others and that is why I love being a volunteer for the NSRI.”