Raglan Coastguard president Wally Hawken is in little doubt only a chance sighting of a stricken boat near Jacksons Reef last week prevented a tragic outcome – and is reminding boaties to make sure they are able to call for help in emergencies.
“Absolutely, in this instance a tragedy was averted,” he agreed this week of the critical nature of the dusk rescue by a passing Raglan trawlerman of seven men being blown out to sea by near-100kmh winds aboard their broken-down 5.5 metre aluminium boat.
While the men had lifejackets, Wally said he understood they were a “bit lean” on communications.
“The message is reasonably clear as this incident has highlighted – boaties should take two forms of communication with them, a cellphone and a [Coastguard] radio for example, and keep them in a waterproof container,” he said.
Wally said Tamahine skipper Mark “Lumber” Lloyd and his deckhand were heading home from a three-day fishing trip when they “saw this boat not looking so flash and took it in tow”.
The Tamahine contacted the Coastguard for assistance and the Gallagher Rescue craft brought the cold but uninjured fishermen back to its wharf base “pretty promptly” before returning to sea so it could assist the trawler if need be with the tow.
Wally said the Coastguard’s priority was always getting people in trouble to a triage point as soon as possible so ambulance staff could take over with any medical assistance that was required.
While the Tamahine took the lead role in last week’s rescue, Wally said the Raglan Coastguard had most of the big local fishing boats on its list “so if a major disaster happens they’re available to help. We’re really appreciative of that backup support.”
He stressed the Coastguard had no policing role. “Our job is to help people [boaties] when they make mistakes or get into trouble… we’re not an enforcement agency.”
The incident is however being investigated by the Waikato Regional Council, which last week reminded boaties to take extra care after several mishaps which it said could have ended tragically.
Others were the swamping of a boat by a rogue wave as it tried to cross the Raglan bar on New Year’s Day and a January 7 incident where a powerboat ended up on rocks at Whale Bay.
Although witnesses to the latter incident claimed the boat came in “way too close” to shore and capsized, the council said that its inquiries into both earlier cases found there was little more the skippers could have done and that the precautions taken had saved the lives of those on board.
It said the powerboat’s windscreen and canopy had been damaged in a rough Raglan bar crossing “and instead of attempting another bar crossing the skipper wisely chose to come in to another bay where he was caught out by some rocks”.
While in the earlier mishap on the bar both occupants – who were wearing lifejackets – had been thrown into the water, the council pointed out the skipper had about 10 years’ experience and had attended several courses including a bar crossing training day.
Council navigation safety programme manager Nicole Botherway said these first two incidents just went to show how even the most prudent boaties could get caught out, especially on the west coast which could be particularly unforgiving.