Russell Shelton, Marine Rescue

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Russell Shelton is the Unit Commander of Marine Rescue, a volunteer organisation that provides a vital safety service to our boating community 24/7, here on the Coffs Coast. We spoke to him about the program, the volunteers who give their time and expertise to the organisation, what motivates him to take on this important role, and how to stay safe whilst enjoying our spectacular marine environment.

Hi Russell. Tell us a little about your relationship with the Coffs Coast.

I have had two main career paths, one being the owner/manager of a charter boat and scuba diving operation in Jervis Bay. I was also a commercial boat skipper and Master Scuba Diving Instructor. My other career path was that of a Human Resources Manager in the public sector. 

When I retired in 2012, I moved to Coffs Harbour to enjoy the wonderful diving and beauty of the region, which flowed on to joining Marine Rescue Coffs Harbour.

You are the Unit Commander of Marine Rescue here in Coffs. What is Marine Rescue Coffs Harbour all about?

Marine Rescue Coffs Harbour is a volunteer not for profit organisation which is operational 24/7 and provides a vital safety service to the region’s boating community.  Our mission is Volunteers Saving Lives on the Water. We have a specially equipped search and rescue vessel ready to respond to boaters in distress. We urge boaters to always wear a lifejacket and to log on with us before heading out. Tell us where you are going and when you are due back, how many people are on board, the boat’s name and registration number, and your contact details. If a vessel does not return when expected, a search can be quickly mounted. 

To log on, boaters can contact MR Coffs Harbour by landline 6652 3155, VHF radio channel 16, or 27Mhz channel 88, or use the free Marine Rescue App. 

Our volunteers also provide a safety watch for community events such as triathlons, swimming events, outrigger races and the power boats. To help fund our operations, we do regular fundraising in the community. We are keen to hear from local businesses that may wish to sponsor us. 

Marine Rescue is made up of volunteers. How many people do you have working alongside you?

Our membership is 56, including professionally trained radio operators and boat crew. Other volunteers help with tasks such as fundraising and administration. I am proud of our members, who not only commit their time and energy, but also bring a wide range of skills and experience to our unit from previous or current careers. There is no cost involved, and we provide uniforms after a qualifying period.

Who can become a volunteer, and what sort of training is involved?

We always welcome new members. You do not need a maritime background, as we provide professional training – both competency-based (personal training on the job) and some classroom sessions. 

Marine Rescue NSW is a Registered Training Organisation, and our training is in accordance with nationally accredited qualifications. Our training is comprehensive and integral to the safety service we provide, to ensure that our members are skilled and competent to carry out the range of duties required in keeping both the boating community and our members safe.

On average, how many assists do you do a year, and what kind of assists are they?

We carry out about 70 rescues a year, ranging from life threatening emergencies at night in challenging conditions, to more routine jobs where vessels have flat batteries, fuel problems or a loss of steering. On the water, simple problems can become more serious if not dealt with quickly. A disabled boat could drift on to rocks or way out to sea. 

What have been some of the biggest challenges of the job, and how do you overcome them?

One challenge is boaters who don’t log on and then get into difficulty. It slows down our response time in providing assistance. When you log on, give us a few simple details and we can track your voyage. Log on when you leave and log off when you return. It is as simple as that.   

What drives you to continue to volunteer your time for Marine Rescue?

Being a Marine Rescue volunteer is very satisfying. Apart from providing a vital safety service, as a trainer and assessor I help people learn new skills, which is personally very satisfying. 

What safety precautions can Coffs Coast locals take when hitting the water?

Check conditions, and if in doubt, don’t go out. All vessels should have the appropriate safety equipment, such as a well maintained VHF radio and a lifejacket for each person on board. Make sure the vessel is seaworthy and check the fuel and batteries. If a vessel has not been used for a long time, the fuel may be old and the battery may need charging or replacing. Once you’ve done that, log on with your local Marine Rescue unit. We encourage local skippers to join our Radio Club, which saves time when logging on. They get a unique Marine Rescue call sign, which they quote when heading out.  

Where can we find out more information about Marine Rescue?

People can either call us on (02) 6652 3155 or visit the Unit on Beacon Hill, Edinburgh Street, Coffs Harbour. Marine Rescue NSW also has an informative website: www.marinerescuensw.com.au and a Facebook page with regular updates from our 44 units.

Thanks Russell.

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