Informer Article

Permission to re-publish this article kindly provided by The Informer, Whitianga.
Whitianga Coastguard Deputy Vice President Operations – Graham Caddy (left)
and Stuart Brown, Whitianga Coastguard President (right)

The Whitianga Coastguard unit is experiencing one of their busiest summer seasons on record. “A lot of boats have been going out to sea during December and January and it doesn’t seem as if things are letting up in February,” says Stuart Brown, President of the unit.
The unit operates two rescue vessels, the larger Te Morehu and also Endeavour, a smaller boat which is primarily used for inshore and close-to-shore operations.
In December, the unit was called out 10 times. Three of the call-outs were of a more serious nature (normally involving the Police as well) and the rest were to assist Coastguard members who encountered engine difficulties and needed a tow back to Whitianga.
Boaties can become Coastguard members for a nominal annual fee, which entitles them to unlimited assistance. Non-members are charged for assistance.
Just more than 92 man-hours were spent on the December call-outs and a total of 27 people were assisted. The figures for January are staggering. The unit received 24 call-outs, three of them more serious. Just under 161 man-hours were spent and 83 people were assisted.
“We are a relatively small Coastguard unit of volunteers,” says Stuart. “We have 16 crew members and six radio operators. We are the second busiest unit in Coastguard New Zealand’s Eastern Waikato region [an area from the tip of the Coromandel in the north to Hawkes Bay in the south, including the Taupo and Rotorua Lakes] and one of the top 10 busiest units in the country.”
In December, the Whitianga unit rescued the skipper and passengers of a powerboat that hit a solid object off Opito Bay and was seriously damaged. The unit also helped with the search for two kayakers that went missing off Hahei and assisted a charter boat that started to take on water at Great Mercury Island. “What happened with the two kayakers is something that happens every now and again,” says Graham Caddy, Deputy Vice President Operations of the unit. “Concerned
family members or friends report one or more swimmers, kayakers, paddle-boarders or boaties overdue. We and other organisations like the Police initiate a search, but end up finding no one. As we don’t hear any further from the concerned family members or friends, we assume the missing persons are safe.
“Over the years, we’ve become very professional and sophisticated in what we do. The charter boat we assisted at great Mercury Island suffered a hole in her hull and the pumps on board couldn’t cope with the extra water. We not only had a bigger pump on board our rescue vessel we could use to pump the water out, we were also able to patch the hole.”
In January, the Whitianga unit were called out on separate occasions to search for a missing paddleboarder and swimmer. People on the beach in Matarangi thought the paddle-boarder may have been in trouble. No one was found and the unit assumed the person made it back to shore safely. The swimmer was reported missing off Cathedral Cove by her boyfriend. A general mayday call was put out by the Coastguard radio operators to all boats in the area and she was eventually picked up by another boat.
The most serious incident the unit attended to in the first two months of summer happened
not long before midnight on the evening of Saturday 28 January when a 6.5m trailer boat hit some rocks at the Purangi River entrance at high speed. All four passengers on board were injured and both Auckland and Coromandel Rescue Helicopters were dispatched to the scene. One of the passengers was flown to Auckland City Hospital in a serious condition. Another passenger was flown to Waikato Hospital in a critical condition. “Six of us went out to the incident,” says
Graham. “We spent around four hours helping the Rescue Helicopters and other emergency services before we returned to our base in Whitianga. Maritime New Zealand is now investigating what caused the boat to hit the rocks.”
Sunday 29 January, the day of the Whitianga Summer Concert, was one of the busiest days for the Whitianga Coastguard unit, with three further call-outs to assist members (in addition to the time spent at the Cooks Beach incident). “In a 24-hour period, I spent almost 10 hours on the water,” says Stuart. “At the end of the day, that’s just what you do. Many of our volunteer crew members
are business owners and when a call for assistance is made, we have no issue with shutting the doors of our businesses to go out and help if we don’t have anyone at that time available to look after our customers.”
Stuart and Graham are both Whitianga business owners. Stuart owns Longshore Marine at the southern end of The Esplanade and Graham is the owner of Feetstreat in Albert Street.
In addition to assisting people in need, the Whitianga Coastguard unit also facilitates VHF radio and day skipper courses. Anyone interested in these courses, or in joining the unit as a volunteer, can contact Stuart on telephone (021) 0222 5625.
“Coastguard units have come a long way over the years,” says Graham. “In Whitianga we employ state-of-the-art technology, our equipment is top class and we place a huge emphasis on training. I’m proud to say we’re a unit of professional volunteers.”