Our History

John Payne and Patti Price receive certificates of recognition from the then State President Jim Fouche, and Pat O’Sullivan on the far right

The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) is a charity that has over 1000 unpaid volunteers who respond 24/7/365 to save lives on South African waters. We also teach children in disadvantaged communities about basic water safety through our schools programme.

In 1966 at Stillbaai on the East coast, just below Mossel Bay, 17 fishermen drowned after three fishing boats sank in a terrible storm.  There were four boats out that day and only one came back. Oom Gerhard Dreyer, now deep in his ‘80s, was the skipper of that boat and remembers how he, and his crew, threw everything that they could, including the fish that they had caught,  off the ‘skuit’ … making it as light as they could.  He then turned the bow into the storm and headed out to sea. In the small hours of the morning, as the storm was abating, Oom Gerhard turned back to shore, and amongst the wreckage of the other boats he found a lone survivor from the other three ‘skuits.’ It was fisherman John Aries, who was clinging to a life ring, and was so shocked that he could not talk.

Following this tragic incident, Miss Pattie Price (whose own life had been saved by a RNLI lifeboat  in the English Channel) began a committed letter-writing campaign to motivate for the formation of a sea rescue organisation in South Africa.  Captain Bob Deacon and Ray Lant were the first volunteers to respond to this call and in 1967 the South African In shore Rescue Service (SAISRS) was born –  its first rescue craft – a 4.7m inflatable boat called Snoopy* was donated by the Society of Master Mariners. Soon the SAISRS became the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) and today carries on the proud tradition of volunteering started in 1967. All rescue crew of the NSRI are still unpaid volunteers.

From that first inflatable boat, manned by two men who sometimes had to strap it to the roof of their vehicle and drive it to where it was needed for a rescue, the organisation now has over 1000 highly trained volunteers at 31 bases around the coast and on 5 inland dams.

A massive organisation, with phenomenal support from the community, Sea Rescue has an annual running cost of over R73.4m that is used to run 85 rescue craft, 28 Rescue vehicles, 16 quad bikes and 11 tractors.

In 2006 Sea Rescue’s drowning prevention initiative, originally named WaterWise, was launched. This programme is presented in schools around the country. There are twelve Instructors spread out from Soweto, to Ceres to Nyanga, and their job is to teach children how to avoid danger, what to do in an emergency, who to call for help and gives them the confidence to initiate basic bystander CPR while they wait for an ambulance to arrive.  The programme targets youth in disadvantaged communities and since its inception is very proud to have  taught over 1 300 000 children about basic water safety.

* Legend has it that the name Snoopy was the nickname Bob Deacon gave to his 2 year old toddler who was curious and always “snooping” around.

The first Sea Rescue boat donated to the NSRI by the Society of Master Mariners in 1967. The late Captain Bob Deacon is on the helm and the late Ray Lant is the crewman.

The first Sea Rescue boat donated to the NSRI by the Society of Master Mariners in 1967. The late Captain Bob Deacon is on the helm and the late Ray Lant is the crewman.