Seeing those red wetsuits going out to sea whetted the appetite of a young Junré Marais growing up.
Today, the 25-year-old final year Masters student in Plant Pathology at Stellenbosch University, can also be seen in the red rescue kit of the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) on the Cape West Coast.
Marais volunteers as a training officer and trainee coxswain at NSRI Station 34 at Yzerfontein, about an hour’s drive North of Cape Town.
“I always saw the people in their red wetsuits going out to sea while I grew up but I never knew what they did,” he said.
“As I got older, I started to investigate what Sea Rescue is and what they do. Seeing that their motto is saving lives in South African waters, I decided to join and see what I can do to help others.”
Marais said his local NSRI station had an open day in late 2015 and he decided to visit to learn more and to hear from them. Soon thereafter he went for a medical and “that was the day I signed up to join”.
“As training officer, I am responsible for putting together a training programme for our station for the year,” he said. “Therefore, I need to plan training exercises for every second weekend and make sure that we get through all the modules and have trainee crew qualified as crew to go on callouts.”
As a trainee coxswain he is working towards qualifying to become a coxswain, the person that is in charge of the rescue vessel whenever it is out at sea.
“When we are not training, we are on standby 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Marais has racked up approximately 1,400 hours of volunteering time to date.
He hopes to finish his Masters degree by the end of this year and then start a career in the agricultural field, but “will remain a volunteer with Sea Rescue once I start with the adult life of working”.
Helping other people and the opportunity to learn new things is what makes volunteering for the NSRI so rewarding. “Not a single day is the same on the water and each callout is a different experience – the challenges associated with rescues and the adrenaline once you receive a callout.”
He recalls a recent unusual challenge, “Not long ago we had a group of French tourists where one had a kite boarding accident. They understood very little English and we had to converse using Google translate.”
Volunteering for the NSRI takes up most of his spare time but Marais still manages to also volunteer at parkrun as a co-event director and with his local neighbourhood watch.
“I really enjoy it to be involved with the community and to give back.”
When he is not volunteering, Marais plays club level hockey and is a qualified umpire.
“Despite not being able to participate in sports these past couple of months, NSRI has continued to operate right through the national lockdown as an essential service, and we have been as busy as ever.”
Marais is a firm believer in never being too young to help implement change and said the youth are ready to take their communities forward.
So, what else has the NSRI taught him? “One of the most important things that I have learnt over the past five years is that no matter who you are or what your ‘day’ job title might be, everyone is treated equally at Sea Rescue and you are all on the same level as everyone else.”
“For example, you might be the CEO of a multi-million dollar company, but once you start at Sea Rescue, you are not that CEO … you serve in whatever capacity the organisation needs you and you have to respect that,” he said.
June is celebrated as Youth Month in South Africa to remember the sacrifices of past generations of young people in the attainment of freedom and also to recognise the role of youth in shaping the future of the country. Youth Month 2020 was launched under the theme Youth Power: Growing South Africa together in the Period of COVID-19.
The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) is the charity organisation that saves lives on South African waters – both coastal and inland. The NSRI works to prevent drowning through rescue operations, education and prevention initiatives. The NSRI is totally reliant on donations and sponsorships in order to do the work of saving lives, changing lives, and creating futures. Visit www.nsri.org.za for more information.
The minimum age for joining the National Sea Rescue Institute as a trainee rescuer is 16 years of age. Some NSRI stations offer a junior academy where candidates are able to join in for some of the theory related training from age 12 onwards. On these bases, these candidates are able to become fully fledged rescue crew once they have passed the minimum number of sea hours and practical assessments shortly after turning 16 – due to the benefit of having completed most of the theoretical aspects sooner.
Please note, that as with any trainee and any volunteer – training conditions and expectations are appropriately matched to the candidate’s ability, to manage their safety.