It was Boxing Day 2019 and the post-Christmas stampede to the NSW coastline had begun. A howling north-east wind was blowing - attracting kite-surfers and sailboarders to Sydney’s beaches to take advantage of the perfect sailing conditions. However, the swell increased over the course of the afternoon and by 3pm conditions on the water were rough with significant wind chop.
At 3.15pm a sailboard was spotted floating in the sea off Cronulla Point, near Shark Island. However, there was no sailor observed in the vicinity of the board. Fearing the worst, members of the public alerted volunteer surf lifesavers who were on-duty on Cronulla beach.
Cronulla lifesavers quickly requested assistance from Surf Life Saving Sydney Support Operations. Two RWCs (jetskis) began searching the area with the assistance of two IRBs from Cronulla and Elouera surf clubs. They immediately established a ‘line search’ with each asset 40 metres apart, combing the area that was determined to be the probable ‘drift pattern’ of the sailboarder – allowing for wind, swell and tide direction.
Meanwhile, council lifeguards at Cronulla, North Cronulla, Elouera and Wanda began a visual scan of the area with binoculars. They quickly spotted a green object, suspected to be a sailboard sail, floating in the water. The lifeguards directed the Support Operations RWCs to the location where they found the sailboarder clinging to his sail.
The sailboarder was secured on the jetski sled and returned to shore for medical assessment by Cronulla Lifeguards. He was released without treatment.
Joel Wiseman, who was acting as a Support Ski operator at the time of the incident, said that although the sailboarder was wearing a lifejacket, he had been in the water for 45 minutes prior to being rescued. He said that if it weren’t for the actions of volunteer lifesavers and lifeguards, the sailboarder may have floated in the water for hours before reaching the shore.
“This was a seamless, coordinated response from multiple resources; lifeguards, lifesavers and support ops in response to a person in distress - with a successful outcome for the person rescued,” Joel Wiseman said.
Mr Wiseman said that the lucky sailboarder’s board and sail were recovered by Cronulla and Elouera IRBs and returned to him after the incident.
The SLSNSW Rescue of the Month aims to recognise excellence in lifesaving. Each month a ‘Rescue of the Month’ is awarded at state-level for the most outstanding rescue performance for that period. Monthly winners have the chance to win the National Rescue of the Month and become finalists for the SLSNSW Rescue of the Year which is presented at the annual Awards of Excellence. Laerdel are proud supporters of Surf Life Saving NSW. Rescue of the Month winners receive Laerdel gift vouchers as recognition of their achievements. Ten prizes are awarded annually.