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Swift delegation and teamwork ensured a young family was rescued quickly after their boat capsized near a rocky outcrop near Melkbosstrand.

It was Sea Rescue business as usual at Station 18 (Melkbosstrand). Lifeguard and trainee coxswain Michaela Nagel was at the station conducting training with a group of lifeguards in preparation for their upcoming maritime emergency care (MEC) scenario when a member of the public alerted them to what they thought was ‘dinghy’ in distress near Slabber se Klippe, a rocky outcrop popular with anglers, off Melkbosstrand Beach.

Michaela immediately asked one of the lifeguards, Ian van der Nest, to grab the binoculars and check if he could see them. Once they had eyes on the casualties and their upturned boat, she called station commander Peter O’Hanlon to let him know they had a callout on their hands.

Michaela then asked newly qualified lifeguard Laurie Smuts to kit up, and take the Malibu board and paddle out to the casualties to keep them calm while she and fellow crew prepped to launch the JetRIB, a Sea Ranger 13, and the station’s 6.5m RIB, Rotary’s Gift.

A dangerous situation

“I paddled out to the casualties, and found an adult male holding onto the upturned hull of their capsized vessel and a female and two children on a small tube that was attached to the main boat,” Laurie says. “They were quite stressed, but very relieved to see me.”

While calming the family, Laurie noticed that the current was beginning to pull them into the surf zone, a potentially dangerous situation because the surf was particularly rough that day.

Back at the base, Michaela and newly qualified Class 4 coxswain Dee Huddy launched the station’s JetRIB, and sped off to the scene, while coxswain and NSRI operations manager Bruce Sandmann, and crew Elme Kruger and Heino Brand launched in the 6.5m.

“Laurie had done a good job of calming them down at this point,’ Michaela says. The children were clearly shaken, and had started to become hypothermic, Dee says.

“Due to the swell pushing through, the safest option was to keep them on the tube they were on and move them out of where the waves were breaking to a safe area. The situation was becoming serious at this point,” Michaela explains.

“Safety was our main concern, and we needed to get them away from the surf zone. So, I jumped into the water to swim the casualties closer to the JetRIB. Laurie loosened the knot tying the tube to the upturned vessel. We managed to get the man onto the JetRIB, and tied the tube with the three remaining casualties on it to the JetRIB.”

Soon after securing the casualties and moving them away from the surf zone, Rotary’s Gift arrived on scene with plenty of blankets and the family was transferred to the rescue vessel and brought to shore. Thankfully, all four casualties had been wearing wetsuits and life jackets which greatly helped them after their boat was swamped by a wave and capsized.

The crew returned later with the tractor to retrieve the 4m skiff, which had washed up on the rocks.

Melkbosstrand ladies

The rewards of volunteering

For 21-one-year-old Michaela, who is also the medical officer at the station, the most rewarding part of volunteering is “knowing that you helped save a life, that you helped bring someone back to their families. I don’t think it could get much better than that. And, of course, the tremendous support that we get as volunteers, from other crew members and from the organisation as a whole.”

For Dee, it’s the training academy that the station has been running for the last year for new recruits (Covid-19 setbacks notwithstanding). “One of the most rewarding things is to watch the young crew learn and grow while working their way towards being qualified crew and lifeguards,” she says.

Laurie Smuts Melkbosstrand

One of these youngsters is 15-year-old lifeguard Laurie Smuts, who paddled out to the distressed family to calm them down and tell them help was on the way. Laurie’s love for swimming started when he was seven years old. His calmness, maturity and dedication belie his age. Dee has watched his progress, and her eyes light up when she talks about him. “I love that kid; I can’t wait for him to get his crew badge next year.”

There are many themes that run through the NSRI, but the one that stands out, particularly with this rescue, is the time and effort invested by the organisation in training its volunteers. The result is quick-thinking, fast-acting crew. “We knew what we needed to do, the roles we had in the operation, and that it needed to be done safely and quickly,” Dee says.

Their enthusiasm is something special too!

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