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Volunteers scour ocean to ensure region's boaties are safe

READY TO HELP: Members of Volunteer Marine Rescue Gladstone before their training drill.
READY TO HELP: Members of Volunteer Marine Rescue Gladstone before their training drill. Luka Kauzlaric

SINCE 1971 Volunteer Marine Rescue Gladstone has provided assistance about 120 times to boat operators annually, as well as training for people new to boating in Gladstone.

Long-time VMRG member and radio operator Jim Purcell is known locally as the voice of the harbour.

He can often be heard on channels 16 and 82 administering calm advice and local knowledge to uncertain vessel operators.

One of dozens of active volunteers who contribute to the VMR Gladstone squadron, Mr Purcell is modest about his contribution, which began when he joined in 1975.

Asked why he does what he does, he shrugs.

"Oh, I've been interested in the sea all my life."

Volunteer Jim Purcell.is proud of his groups' work towards safe boating in the region.
Volunteer Jim Purcell.is proud of his groups' work towards safe boating in the region. Luka Kauzlaric

These days Mr Purcell's main passion is training and education.

"When the wind's against the tide, it can get nasty for a small boat," he said.

"We do training sessions every five weeks. We teach people everything, how to anchor, where to anchor in a storm, how to plot your position on a map, how to put it on a GPS.

"We talk about local features like the Narrows and East Channel. We tell people about the harbour and the dangers in it."

Sergeant Jeff Barnett from Gladstone District Water Police is one local whose admiration for VMR runs deep.

As the responsible authority for all rescue operations, the Queensland police appreciates the significance of the volunteer contribution to rescue efforts and safety education.

"For people looking to get into the industry it's a very good way to get some knowledge," Sgt Barnett said.

"Some of the blokes over there, they do the old-school navigation and you just can't learn that stuff anymore."

VMRG president Jeff Kidner said increasing use of the harbour since GLNG development had underlined the importance of boating safety and awareness.

"Recreational boat registrations in the Gladstone region have increased by more than 9% in the past four years and continue to rise," Mr Kidner said.

Responding to this challenge, in 2009 QGC and VMRG entered a partnership that has seen sponsorship of more than $327,000 towards equipment, including a new rescue vessel and the publication of a boating handbook.

QGC managing director Derek Fisher said: "Our partnership with QGC provides an opportunity to get the marine safety message out to the boating community."

VMRG is one of 25 organisations of its kind.

It covers the area from Cape Capricorn in the north to Bustard Head in the south.

Boat sank so VMR to rescue

CLIVE Larst is not your average commuter, having set course on his boat from Gladstone Marina to a private island every work day for the past 14 years.

A caretaker at the island, Mr Larst returned to his vessel one day to discover the pontoon to which it was attached had sunk and taken his boat with it.

Mr Larst was a member of Volunteer Marine Rescue Gladstone, but until this incident about five years ago he hadn't had cause to radio for help.

There's a real camaraderie and they're all people that love boats.

He laughed as he recollected the scene that unfolded.

"We had to bail it out by hand, because their pump had broken," Mr Larst said.

"We only realised when we went to use it.

"I thought I was pretty strong until I had to bail a boat. After you've done about 25 buckets, your arms just about want to fall off."

He compares having VMR membership with having insurance, but the difference is the service is provided voluntarily.

"We don't pay for the rescue with VMR," he said.

"Everyone's just so happy to see that VMR crew come out and hook that rope on and take you back in, because you're at the mercy of everybody out there, and you never know when your anchor is going to lift or drag."

The VMR crew helped him save his boat, something the SES, water police and other authorities aren't able to do.

That's one great thing about VMR, he said.

"There's a real camaraderie and they're all people that love boats."

HELP AHOY: Clive Larst was helped by VMR when a pontoon and his boat sank.
HELP AHOY: Clive Larst was helped by VMR when a pontoon and his boat sank. Mike Richards GLA050214BOAT

Topics:  boating gladstone harbour volunteer marine rescue



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