The coastal resort town of Scottburgh is home to an award-winning rescue crew.
Rocky Bay finally received its first NSRI station in 2017, when then Chairperson of the local ski-boat club, Kevin Fourie, was approached by the NSRI’s Eddie Noyons to open a base. “He took me with him!” says co-deputy station commander Linda Putter, who was secretary of the same club.
Linda and Kevin, the current station commander, founded Station 39, and celebrated the sixth anniversary of their base opening last month with a family braai attended by crew and members of the NSRI volunteer support centre.
“The station has evolved in leaps and bounds,” says Linda. “Crew have come and gone, but the core crew of 22 we have now are a very dedicated bunch. I’ve learnt so much since those early days… When I joined, I knew nothing about rescue work! Now, I love it. The people at the volunteer support centre are so helpful.”
Established in July 2017, the official base building was completed and opened in April 2018, and is now home to a JetRIB, a 7.3m Gemini RIB (rigid inflatable boat), an ARK Inflatable Rescue Stretcher, and a tractor. Two Class 3 Coxswains have qualified with the station (with one in training), as have two Class 4 Coxswains (with three more in training).
“I am proud to say I have a fantastic group of dedicated volunteers at my station, who go above and beyond in their efforts to save lives on South African waters,” says Kevin. “We are a small station with a big heart and work together as a family unit.”
Having a rescue background from his boating and fishing experience, Kevin had always wanted to become involved with the NSRI, but was turned down twice: once because he lived too far away from the station, and once because he didn't have a telephone “back in those days”, which was obviously a requirement for rescue call-outs. His opportunity finally came, though, and he hasn’t looked back.
“I have always had a passion for rescue work. My motivation comes from operating under pressure in a challenging environment with this massive and professional organisation, which has fantastic family values and a wonderful group of volunteers who offer their services selflessly.”
Among the station crew’s most memorable rescues – like most stations in the area – were those executed during the devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal in 2022.
Kevin and then co-deputy station commander Travis Clarke were only operational for a single day, however, on that day they rescued over 100 people from factories in Prospecton, with only a single JetRIB. On the same occasion, crew member Deon Dekker assisted Durban lifeguards to evacuate people from their homes in Isipingo.
“I was on shore controller duty,” says Linda, “the phone would not stop ringing. So many people needed help. The rain was coming down and the base building was becoming waterlogged. I was coordinating rescues while trying to keep the water at bay. It was intense.”
Thankfully, no disasters on that scale have occurred since, and callouts for Rocky Bay are generally yachts that have run out of fuel when there’s no wind, jet-skis that have lost power, overturned vessels or paddle-skis that have been swept away in the current, says co-deputy station commander Nicki Gibson. “Unfortunately, drownings are also common, due to the rocky nature of our beaches, which cause rip currents.”
Nicki joined the base in September 2018, spurred by an incident in which a dive boat carrying her partner and friends capsized due to debris jamming the motor. “My partner was in the surf, being dunked by the waves along with friends. This was before Station 39 was founded. We had to wait for Station 5 (Durban) or 20 (Shelley Beach) to respond. But the dive charters pulled together and we managed the rescue ourselves. After that, I knew I had to be involved in rescue work.”
Station 39 trains every second Sunday and, says Nicki, the crew launch their vessels as often as possible to improve their experience, “instilling muscle memory by challenging them and keeping them up to date with the modules”.
Evidently, it is working, as the crew have been awarded the NSRI’s Station Excellence award every year for the past five years, as well as the Most Improved Station Award in 2019, and a Meritorious Service Award for their role in the KwaZulu-Natal flood rescues.
“Our crew are amazing,” says Nicki, “coming from all walks of life, they teach us just about as much as we teach them. Always up for a good laugh, but serious when they need to be serious, and sponges for the knowledge we have to share. At times we learn together. The enthusiasm they show is so rewarding. In some cases, individuals have transformed thanks to increased confidence, and it makes us proud to watch them bloom.”
And the future? Mostly, Kevin, Nicki and Linda plan to continue with their winning formula – with hopes of building a bigger base in the not-too-distant future. “We haven’t found a suitable property yet. But we’re looking.”
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