On the water . South Canterbury Coastguard volunteers (from left) Reuben Cowan, Ian Reid and Bradley McMillan head back into Timaru Harbour after weekly training last Wednesday. PHOTOS: HELEN HOLT

South Canterbury Coastguard has overhauled the training programme for its volunteers. Reporter Helen Holt went out in their vessel last week to learn how the team prepares for a disaster in any weather.

Many people would picture the coastguard as a bunch of hard lads who have driven boats since childhood.

However, the reality is a careful group of volunteers who train every Wednesday evening to master saving boaties from sticky situations.

Last week, I was invited on board and given a tour of South Canterbury Coastguard’s vessel, including every item in case of an emergency. Before I could climb aboard, I had to be dressed in thick, bright orange overalls and a life jacket.

I was on board with three of the coastguard crew, Bradley McMillan, Reuben Cowan and Ian Reid.

Before the boat even started moving, Mr McMillan, who was at the helm, called out “Holding on”, which the team repeated.

Everyone needed to confirm they had three points of contact least one hand on a rail the boat would start moving.

Mr McMillan has been a coastguard member since last year, and his training module for the evening was “man overboard”.

Mr Cowan would randomly throw a life ring out to sea and yell out, “Man overboard!”.

Mr McMillan had to react quickly and turn the boat towards the life ring while Mr Cowan yelled out directions.

After the drill, the team talked about how it went and what could be improved.

As well as Wednesday night training, all 11 “active” members are on call at all times, either by a text or pager.

The South Canterbury group’s training programme was completely revamped earlier this year, and two tutors were sent from Auckland to train four volunteers to master level.

Training assistant Kat Andrews said the training had been a mishmash until this year.

“Our volunteers used to train twice a month, now they train every Wednesday evening.

“It was amazing having the two tutors to teach them the protocol used by the rest of the country.

“The training from operational to master level was intense, and they were shattered afterwards, training four hours a week for three months.

“Their brains were fried after the training, but now the team is fired up to continue everything to the best practice, and we now have four newly trained skippers.”

South Canterbury Coastguard has one rescue vessel, which will be replaced next year. Mrs Andrews said it had done the organisation well, but after 20 years it was time for an upgrade.

“The new vessel will be a metre longer than this one, and [have] a bigger engine.”

Mr Cowan said that while the team only got eight to 10 emergency callouts a year, it was important to be ready.

“We’ve had a couple of callouts for kontiki which have drifted out. It seems pretty minor, but those things are expensive and they can get caught, so it’s important for us to get those back.”

Teamwork .. South Canterbury Coastguard volunteers (from left) Bradley McMillan, Reuben Cowan and Ian Reid out on the water.

The team is expecting a busy summer, and is reminding people to wear life jackets and carry two forms of communication phones or a phone and radio.

Mrs Andrews said the most important step was to tell someone onshore where they were going.

“I used to work at the Auckland Coastguard, and every Sunday night in summer I would get a ring from a person saying their husband had gone out fishing, and hadn’t come home yet,” she said.

“I would then ask for details such as where they left from, where they might be going, what their boat looked like. Often, most of those questions were answered with “oh, don’t know”.

“Now, we encourage people to have a two-minute form, one side whiteboard, the other side cardboard.”

The two-minute form would have the boat’s details, the launch time and location, and the time due back home.

If boaties did not return on time, the forms made it “a lot quicker” to track them down.

South Canterbury Coastguard is seeking members for both the “wet crew” and “dry crew”.

Mr Cowan said volunteers did not necessarily need to have boat knowledge.

“It helps but it’s not needed because we will train you up.

“All that’s required is the ability to work in a team, and be willing to learn.”

Mrs Andrews said there were essential roles which never involved touching the water, such as the treasurer.

“For wet crew to do what they do, they need dry crew.”