FOURTEEN years ago a tragic boating accident highlighted a gap in local marine emergency service responses that needed to be filled.
Four years later the Warrnambool Coast Guard was formed and this week the group celebrates 10 years of service and education to the south-west community.
Deputy flotilla commander Barbara Heazlewood said the deaths of her husband Gerald and son David made local police aware that there was a gap in rescue services.
“The accident made them realise something needed to be done,” Mrs Heazlewood said.
“We had a meeting with the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard who were very keen on establishing a Warrnambool flotilla.
“From there we had a public meeting in January 2004, which was followed by the inaugural meeting on February 18.”
Mrs Heazlewood said there were now 27 members of the Warrnambool flotilla, from a wide cross-section of the community.
“We have five members who were part of that original group,” she said.
Flotilla commander Adrian Calderwood said the coast guard vessel was launched in 2008 and had averaged six call-outs a year.
He said they also operate a radio service each weekend and on public holidays that local boaties can tune in to.
“We’ve responded to all sorts of calls. We’ve helped stricken yachts, large fishing craft and recreational boaters,” he said.
“We estimate we’ve towed in about a quarter-of-a-million dollars worth of vessels and helped nearly 60 people.
“You can’t say we’ve saved that many lives, but you never know what could have happened had we not been able to respond.”
Mr Calderwood said that in the coming months the coast guard would be able to offer boat licensing and marine radio courses.
“The mission of the coast guard is to promote safety in the operation of small craft mainly by education and example, so offering those courses will allow us to do that role more effectively,” he said.
“We also have three new home-trained skippers, meaning we will soon have five skippers available. It means we have options when we are putting a crew together to respond to a call-out.”
Mrs Heazelwood said the coast guard was a fully voluntary organisation that received no government funding.
“It costs at least $10,000 a year to keep the boat on the water, not including fuel costs.
“We have to come up with all that money ourselves. We don’t have any regular government funding.
“So we are always on the look-out for new members and donations to continue the work of the coast guard.
“If we can help save a life, that’s the best reward and result for us.”