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Coast Guard provides volunteer wake up calls

Australia’s Coast Guard relies on volunteers for everything from fielding radio SOS calls and rescuing vessels in distress to raising funds for the invaluable service.


Being woken by phone call about a life or death situation at 3am is, thankfully, a rare event for most of us but, for retiree Jane, it’s just an average night as a volunteer with the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard Association.

Jane has been volunteering for the Coast Guard for the past eight years, assisting as a radio operator and on the rescue vessels.

Her interest was initially prompted by a radio interview about the volunteer marine safety organisation and after earning her Marine radio licence, she began volunteering as a radio operator, fielding distress calls from boats in Port Phillip and Westernport.

Helping boats in distress

‘I put in a huge amount of time each week because when the radio room closes at the end of the day, the emergency lines switch through to someone at home. We're very short of operators that know how to handle that so you have to take that line pretty often and you do get woken up by people that are in trouble, or by the Water Police wanting you to page out one of the flotillas to go out and help a boat that's been disabled,’ Jane says.

Whilst enjoying the interaction of the radio, two years in Jane decided she also wanted to assist on the vessels that go out on rescues, ‘before I get too old’.

‘You can get called out any time of the day or night. We are operational 24/7, 365 days of the year. Our crews go and find the disabled vessel and tow it back to safety,’ Jane says.

‘We also assist the Water Police if they've got a missing person or a missing boat. So, we go out and do line searches and try and find these people and sometimes, as you've heard in the news, it does not end well. If somebody has fallen overboard, it's very difficult to spot their head bobbing around if they've drifted away from their boat. That’s why we encourage people to stay with their vessel. It’s easier to spot a boat than a person.’

Success stories

Fortunately, it’s the success stories that stay with her.

‘There was a call on the radio one morning from a boat that was lost in the fog. It was a son and his father, and his father didn’t have his medication with him and he needed it. I could hear the anxiety in the son’s voice, so you have to calm them down and try and ascertain where they are and ask them if they can anchor and stay put. The Water Police were busy with other tasks so I paged one of our vessels and, it was a difficult search, but they did find them and got them back to safety.’

Not all of volunteer roles with the Coast Guard require the same amount of time and responsibility as Jane’s, with other required tasks including fund raising, administration, and education.

‘The Coast Guard has many wonderful volunteers who give a lot of their time on a regular basis, quite a number are seniors, like myself, but there are also younger members who find the time to contribute as a volunteer,’ Jane says.

‘It’s keeping me physically and mentally active. You're helping people. I mean even if you help one person a week, it's really worthwhile, so I do thoroughly enjoy it and I will keep going as long as I can.’

For more information on volunteering visit the Volunteer Coast Guard websiteExternal Link

Reviewed 27 December 2022