Every year, nearly 7000 New Zealanders – 19 a day on average – are brought home safely from New Zealand seas, lakes and rivers after an emergency.
This prevents 18,000 children from losing their mum or dad, 11,000 grandparents from losing their grandchildren and 1.6 million of us from losing someone we know.
And it’s all made possible by Kiwi institution Coastguard New Zealand, a charity run by over 2,000 volunteers all dedicated to saving lives, and families, on the water – a place where things can go very wrong, very quickly.
From 15 – 28 October, Coastguard are appealing to the New Zealand public for donations to help them continue their life-saving efforts in providing professional marine and rescue services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year.
“Coastguard volunteers give over 300,000 hours of their free time every year to make sure Kiwis can enjoy New Zealand’s magnificent waterways, secure in the knowledge that should anything go wrong, someone highly organised, trained and equipped will be there to help,” says Patrick Holmes, CEO of Coastguard NZ.
“Our volunteers will spring to the assistance of anyone in trouble – from a boat not starting or helping a kayaker or surfer in difficulty, to rescuing a man overboard, responding to an emergency flare, locating a drifting vessel or attending to a medical emergency at sea.
“October is the time when Kiwis get back on the water and we want everyone to know we’re their best mate – and not be scared to call us. At the end of the day, we don’t just save lives, we save families.”
Long-time friends and boaties Isaac Hurst and John Vander Hoeven know this all too well.
Out for four hours of fishing at their secret spot on a normal Saturday morning, they had caught their quota of fish and John was reeling in his line for the last time when a freak large swell came up under the boat and flipped it right over.
Their simple four-hour trip quickly turned into a life-threatening 11-hour ordeal.
“It was the perfect storm of events. Our fishing spot is usually busy with boats but that day there wasn’t anyone else around,” says married father of four Isaac Hurst.
“We only saw two other boats, both were a long way off, one was a container ship.
“The boat wasn’t big (14-foot) and the conditions meant we both got washed off the hull a couple of times. We saw a boat with a search light come out to look for us around 5pm but it was looking in the wrong direction.
“We were waving and shouting but they were too far out. Then it started getting dark and we were both getting very cold. It was another four hours before we heard the motor of another boat and saw the flash of the search light moving across the water. We started waving and shouting again and this time we thought we’d been seen, but it wasn’t until we could see it was coming towards us that we knew we’d been found.
“At that point we just flopped down, no trace of energy left and thought ‘thank goodness’. I really don’t think we had much left, we were on the edge of being able to hold on. I got very emotional and it all hit home when the Coastguard volunteers came alongside and asked if there were any children with us. It made me realise if my grandsons had been on board how much worse it would have been,” says Isaac.
“They wouldn’t have made it, none of us probably would have made it. John and I aren’t really cuddly men, but I’ve never hugged another man for as long as I did when I got pulled aboard that Coastguard boat.
“It took us 40 minutes to reach the area given Brent’s description and intel. We searched for a solid three hours in the rain, all six of us were soaked. We kept rotating to ensure those looking at the water didn’t get too fatigued and miss something. We were using all our skills and trying to stay positive despite things not looking great.
“Suddenly we got a return on the radar which made us all take notice as we knew there were no rocks in that area. As we got closer, we saw them in the beam of our light, on top of the upturned hull.
“We got them on board, assessed their condition and started to warm them up with blankets. We kept talking to them both, all the way back to the mainland to make sure they were okay. It wasn’t until later, after our crew debrief, that I realised what an effect the whole night had on me, we’d made a real difference to someone’s life, and family,” says Isaac.
“To me that night makes everything we do, all the hours and the training, worth it. That one rescue was enough to keep me wanting to do this for as long as I can.”
Isaac’s wife Mallisa Hurst will never forget the moment she got the phone call her husband and John had been found alive.
“We rushed down to where Coastguard had brought them in and found them in the ambulance. Isaac was very emotional, it was just so good to see them. We are so appreciative of everything Coastguard did that night to find the boys and bring them back – alive. Isaac still talks about just how incredible those volunteers were.”
Coastguard New Zealand urges Kiwis heading out on the water this summer to keep these three key messages in mind:
Always wear your lifejacket
Take two separate waterproof forms of communication
If something goes wrong, alert Coastguard as soon as you can – never be afraid to contact us
Coastguard is a charity and with limited government funding it needs your help. You can donate to their cause here: www.coastguard.nz/donate-now/