The NSRI is manned by more than 1 300 volunteers at 43 stations around the country, including five inland bases. The bases are all in a unique province: Vaal Dam (Deneysville, Free State), Hartbeespoort Dam (North West), Witbank Dam (Mpumulanga), Theewaterskloof Dam (Western Cape), and our Gauteng station, based at Homestead Dam. This is a roving station providing services at many water bodies across Gauteng province.With leisure sports like fishing, sailing, swimming, water-skiing and windsurfing so popular at dam resorts and clubs, the rescue services provided by these stations are an integral part of the NSRI’s overall mission “to save lives on South African waters”. Also, these stations provide an essential swift water rescue response during flood events across the country. We take a closer look at Station 35 (Witbank Dam), why it was established, its growth, and its plans and needs for the future.Witbank Dam in Mpumalanga is the largest municipal dam in South Africa. It opened in 1971 and, while used for industrial purposes, has also become a popular leisure spot, hosting a number of resorts and camping sites, and water-sport and yacht clubs. With its excellent launching, it’s also a popular place for anglers, with the annual Witbank Bass Classic being held here each year. The 900-hectare Witbank Nature Reserve is in close proximity, making Witbank Dam and surrounds a popular venue for holidaymakers and watersports lovers.The need for a rescue base
NSRI’s Volunteer Fundraising and Events Manager and founding station commander of Witbank Dam, Dean Wegerle, and current Station 35 (Witbank Dam) station commander, Travis Clack, are longtime friends. “Dean and I had been NSRI fan boys for much longer than we’ve actually been part of the organisation,” Travis says as he explains the origins of the rescue base at Witbank. “We’d buy as much supporter gear as we could; whenever either of us went to Cape Town, the NSRI shop at the V&A Waterfront was always on the list. We ran the yacht club’s rescue boats at Witbank for quite some time, helping with recovering vessels and assisting yachts that had either run aground or broken loose from their moorings.“Then in 2010 a terrible tragedy occurred on the dam,” Travis continues. “A company had hired a pontoon boat for their staff for a year-end party. The boat capsized and six people lost their lives.”“We spoke about the incident at length,” Dean says. “Why wasn’t there an NSRI station on Witbank Dam like at the other major inland dams like Harties and the Vaal?” After much discussion, the pair decided to approach the NSRI about opening a station, enquiring about what was needed and how to get it right.“We were blown away by the reaction,” he continues. “We received a visit from then-CEO Ian Weinberg, and then in later months by current CEO Cleeve Robertson and Operations Manager Brett Ayres.Station 35 Witbank Dam was formally opened in August 2014, equipped with the 4.7 RIB FNB Wavescapes
and ample PPE for the eight founding crew members. The crew then approached the yacht club for a boat shed to house the rescue vessel, and have been accommodated there ever since.In the last six years, the station has gone from strength to strength, and responds to call-outs as far as Limpopo (mainly swift-water and flooding incidents). In addition to FNB Wavescapes,
the station now has a 6.5m RIB and during the course of 2019 received a 4x4 rescue vehicle. “We are currently in the process of getting the plans approved for our base building near the Witbank Yacht and Aquatic Club and are hoping to have the base ready by next year,” Travis says.Since its establishment in 2014, Station 35 has performed 37 call-outs, 55 people have been rescued and 34 vessels assisted.“Even though I am no longer crew at Station 35, I will always be extremely proud of what a bunch of mates with good intentions were able to achieve – save lives – and all because a few people blindly trusted a stranger from little old Witbank,” Dean says.How you can help
With the building of the base commencing once plans have been approved, the station has compiled a needs list. Donations in kind or financially will go a long way in helping Station 35 create a base to call home, a place from which they can perform their lifesaving rescue work.Let us know if you can assist with the following:
- building materials
- office furniture, including storage lockers
- becoming a volunteer: we need shore controllers and coast/dam watchers (a new project), survival swimming teachers, fundraisers and sea-going crew.
- a 4x4 trailer for our swift-water response calls outs
- a GoPro, which is a valuable asset for training
- a projector for training purposes
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
if you are able to assist.