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We’re called Sea Rescue, so you might be surprised to learn that NSRI rescue stations have also been extended to five major inland dams, including Hartbeespoort Dam in North West Province. Affectionately known as ‘Harties’, this playground for water-sport lovers has a fascinating history.Origins of ‘Harties’Not many people are aware that the original Hartbeespoort Dam was completed in 1898. It was the result of the vision of Anglo-Boer War general Hendrik Schoeman, who had a farm called Hartbeespoort where the original dam wall was built at the Crocodile River. He named it ‘Sophia Dam’ after his wife, and the water was used for irrigating the adjacent land. Unfortunately, the dam was washed away in 1909, but plans for an even larger dam were already in the works, and after a series of proposals and delays, government approved the plans. Work began in 1921 and the dam was completed in 1925.Water sports paradiseLet’s fast forward to 2003, nearly 80 years later, when the first NSRI station was established on the dam. The size and location make it a popular destination for local water-sport enthusiasts. Since then, seven station commanders and their crews have worked to save the lives of 171 people in 72 operations.Current station commander Arthur Crewe is in his element, as rescue work has always been in his blood. “I grew up on the dam, so it came naturally to me. I’ve been in the medical, rescue and law enforcement industries my whole life, and have my own ambulance and rescue training company,” he says.His original involvement with the NSRI was as a volunteer naval cadet in the early ’90s.“In 2017, the NSRI base wasn’t very active. Many of the crew lived a few hours’ drive away, so response times were slow. There’s no other official water rescue service, and since I live on the dam, I decided to make contact with the former station commander to discuss how we could improve things. My son and daughter and I signed up, and because of my rescue experience I almost immediately took on a leadership role in the training department. From there, I moved into a managerial role, and in 2018 the crew voted me in as station commander.”Rescue scenariosResponse times have improved dramatically – from hours to minutes – during his tenure. “Often, I can respond more effectively with my own rescue vessel, instead of heading back to base, and I’ve done an extensive recruitment drive to attract and train volunteers who are younger and live close by. I’ve started duty days for popular events and holidays, such as the Easter weekend, when volunteers are on the water on standby should an incident occur – which is usually the case. Previously, they were being called in from the city.”Incidents occur regularly. “Occasionally we have people attempting suicide by jumping off the dam wall. Boats crashing into other boats. Fires on boats. There’s debris in the water – propellers, gearboxes, even tree trunks, things like that – and boats sometimes hit them at speed. And getting stuck in water hyacinth – that’s probably our most common problem. Water hyacinth grows extensively across the dam, jamming motors.”Although there have been many memorable rescues executed by the NSRI crew, one heart-wrenching one stands out for Arthur. “It involved an 11-year-old girl,” he says. “She fell off her father’s boat and, without realising where she was, he rode over her. Her left arm was amputated by the propeller. We were on the scene within three to four minutes, stabilised her and requested a helicopter to airlift her to hospital. I know we saved her life.”Rescues take their toll on the crew, but they are all debriefed, and receive counselling if necessary. “We keep an eye on them,” says Arthur.Currently, Station 25 has a crew of 15, but Arthur is aiming to double that. If you’d like to find out more about volunteering or making a donation towards the station’s running costs, please email
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