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We chatted to Operations Manager Bruce Sandmann to find out more about what it takes to establish an NSRI rescue base.

The Wild Coast and Eastern Cape

Over the course of the last few years, certain areas on the Wild Coast were recognised as hotspots, especially during holiday season. Traditionally these areas are frequented by locals and visitors, and up until the 21/22 holiday season had no rescue-service presence.

In fact, 2021 might be regarded as the year of mobilisation in terms of getting several stations up and running to provide a trained response to water-related incidents.

These included Kei Mouth (Station 47), Mdumbi (Station 49) and Storms River (Station 46) as well as the station at Port St John’s (Station 28) that was reopened.

“Storms River was an interesting one,” Bruce says. “We were able to enlist the help of the neighbouring station at Oyster Bay (Station 36), headed by Lodewyk van Rensburg. With the support of head office, the volunteers at Station 36 took on the task of finding crew and providing training to get the Storms River base up and running,” he adds. “Establishing this base was a joint venture with SANParks that offered us premises at Storms River Mouth.” This team is equipped with a JetRIB for surf rescues.

A champion for the cause

Starting the process from scratch is a bit more complicated, Bruce says. One of the reasons is that the NSRI is a volunteer organisation, so “we’re not employing people to be on duty”. In areas where unemployment is high, it’s nearly impossible to enlist individuals to do a job with no remuneration. “That’s when we need a champion,” he says. This individual acts as a spokesperson, recruiter, organiser, go-between and fact-finder.

To establish a service in a community, one needs the support of that community. The first steps are talking to the municipality, SAPS, council members, community leaders and water users to make them aware of what the NSRI does, and how they can help. Establishing the base at Kei Mouth turned into a strategic collaboration, involving the Ratepayers Association, Municipality and local hotels, backed by NSRI’s Fundraising Department. This was done in order to train and employ lifeguards at Kei Mouth. Monica Maroun, who runs the station, is certainly such a champion, and Bruce has high praise for this lady who made it all happen. “She is an iron-willed lady, who manages the challenges and complexities of running the station phenomenally well,” he says. The result – zero drowning over the summer holiday season. The station is run from the local caravan park, and there are plans to establish a fixed base in the area. Currently the crew are equipped with knee boards, wetsuits and first-aid equipment.

Station 49 at Mdumbi is run from the local backpackers, which allows the 15 crew to use their staff room for meetings. In return, the NSRI crew has trained up the backpackers’ staff in first aid. These volunteers are equipped with wetsuits and kneeboards.

New base

Station 28 at Port St Johns is operating from the Spotted Grunter Resort, which has given the NSRI use of their equipment, including a boat, but negotiations are underway with the municipality to obtain land and a slipway in the area. The aim is to establish a base that will incorporate drowning prevention training and skippers’ training for the fishing market. Port St John’s will also provide training and support for lifesaving in the area.

The West Coast

Strandfontein on the West Coast was originally a private lifesaving club. “They reached out to us and are now officially NSRI Station 45, headed by Tania Fouche.” There are 20 crew at the station which is equipped with a quad bike and JetRIB. “This station is making great progress,” Bruce says, “and by the end of June all lifeguard crew will be qualified sea-going crew.” Station 24 (Lambert’s Bay), which is in close proximity, assists them with training.

Looking ahead

This year, the NSRI is planning to establish bases at St Helena Bay on the West Coast, Hole-in-the-Wall on the Wild Coast and at Gariep Dam (the largest dam in South Africa) in the Free State. There are already around 10 individuals willing to assist with the start-up at the dam, due to the incidents of fatal drownings and issues related to the increase in boating activity. A satellite station is also being planned for Durban, and Bruce foresees that with the support of the existing stations, getting crew and training them up should be a seamless process.

NSRI head office has a hands-on, supportive approach when it comes to establishing new bases. “We allocate budgets to training, and run the training from our side. The station costs are also carried by head office, as is the equipment,” Bruce says. The NSRI has invested in people who are equipped to manage the training and support needed to set up the stations and maintain them. Each new station receives training support every four to six weeks, and Bruce oversees the administration needs for around three years in order for each base to establish a sound and independent infrastructure. The end goal is to have autonomous, self sustaining stations in their communities.

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