Lifesavers Rescue Stranded Skipper

The Easter long weekend was busy for Surf Lifesavers on the beaches in addition to responding to emergency callouts for assistance to other incidents.

One lucky yacht skipper and his inexperienced crew were extremely thankful for the Surf Emergency Response System and the surf club callout teams which came to their aid on Easter Friday.

Five people, including one very experienced skipper, left Sydney Harbour on a yacht sailing towards Pittwater.

Soon after sailing through The Heads, conditions made a turn for the worse and the vessel came face to face with large swell and a 30- knot southerly wind. One of the sails jammed and the boat took a big hit in the swell. As the skipper tried to fix the problem the safety lines snapped and the skipper was tossed overboard.

The strong winds meant by the time the skipper resurfaced, the yacht was already well away from him. One of the crew commented on how quickly the distance opened up between the skipper and the yacht.

“I couldn’t believe how far away he was so soon – he was just gone,” said the crewman.

To avoid putting the vessel and crew at risk by attempting a rescue, the decision was made to go with the swell and contact 000 – Police. The Surf Emergency Response System was tasked immediately.

The callout team from Manly Lifesaving Club responded with IRBs, and the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter was tasked. The IRB crew from Manly was able to retrieve the skipper within 10 minutes, taking him to the Surf Club for minor first aid.

Meanwhile the Westpac helicopter kept watch, hovering above the yacht, providing support and reassurance to the crew who were fast approaching Long Reef Headland. Long Reef IRBs headed out to assist the crew in negotiating the swell.

The inexperienced crew had managed to sail from North Head to Narrabeen in the difficult conditions however it was decided the skipper needed to be got back on board. The skipper was taken to a Water Police vessel waiting offshore which took him back to the yacht where he was able to take over the helm and safely complete the journey to Pittwater.

The rescue operation was coordinated by the Surf Emergency Response System and involved lifesavers from both Manly and Long Reef clubs, Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter, NSW Water Police and NSW Maritime.

The relieved skipper and crew were extremely grateful for the assistance of everyone involved in coordinating the response.

Surf Life Saving NSW Lifesaving Manager, Dean Storey, said this incident highlights the importance of the Surf Emergency Response System in saving lives away from patrolled beaches. “This is a great example of the excellent team work between Surf Life Saving and police for a positive outcome.”

Prior to 2007 there was no structured system in place for emergency services to contact Surf Life Saving for in-water emergencies.

The Surf Emergency Response System, supported by the Surf Life Saving NSW State Operations Centre, was the result of a joint NSW Police and SLS initiative to create one contact point so that emergency services could request Surf Life Saving assistance.

Over the Easter long weekend, the Surf Emergency Response system, manned entirely by volunteers, responded to nine requests for assistance resulting in seven rescues and since its inception has responded to almost 1500 requests for assistance resulting in 700 rescues.

Fri 5 Apr 2013