Rescue at sea

Two fisherman whose boat sank offshore from Bermagui have thanked the “awesome” rescue teams who rushed to save them as they clung to the hull of their upturned runabout.

Skipper Lindsay McGown also had a safety message for other boaters, urging them to wear lifejackets, keep their EPIRB close at hand and know how to use their marine radios, rather than taking a “she’ll be right” approach to their safety on the water.

The day after their boat sank off Beares Beach, south of Bermagui, Mr McGown and Daren Bayldon met the MR Bermagui radio operators who responded to their calls for help and were reunited with two of the rescue vessel crew members who responded to the emergency about 12.20pm on November 28.

Mr McGown thanked the MRNSW volunteers on board Bermagui 30 and Narooma 30 and the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter and Surf Life Saving crews who came to their rescue.

“Thank you so much to everyone. They’re all awesome. It was amazing that they responded so quickly to find us,” he said.

He described the relief when he and his mate, visiting from rural Victoria, saw the rescue teams approaching.

“We were smiling and laughing then. We knew people cared. That was amazing. Daren said he could hear a noise and we looked up and saw the helicopter and thought ‘beautiful’,” he said.

He said the pair, aged 69 and 54, had been shaken up but were “thrilled” to be back on dry land.

Mr McGown credited the pair’s lifejackets with saving their lives as the boat sank beneath them.

“It gives you the confidence to know you can float. It really is amazing. It takes the pressure off you because you know you’re not going to drown,” he said.

“People should wear them. Especially now with the new blow-up ones. They don’t feel bulky on your body like the old ones that used to go over your head. You can bait and catch with them on. I’m really impressed with them. They probably saved our lives.”

The pair had been out to the Three Sisters and were drift fishing off the beach on their way home when the cuddy cabin began taking on water before being swamped by a wave and starting to sink.

Mr McGown made an initial call on his VHF marine radio to ask for a rescue vessel to be sent to tow them back in but as “things got worse“ quickly, with his motor stopping and not re-starting because it was down in the water, he made another, more urgent, call.

His calls were transmitted via new VHF marine radio technology installed by MRNSW on the Bermagui reservoir and Dr George Mountain just weeks before to eliminate a blackspot in VHF reception on that precise area of the coastline.

The calls were answered by radio operator Greg Jones at the MR Bermagui radio base, who quickly deployed rescue vessels from MR Narooma and MR Bermagui, before handing over to operators Stephen Knight and Lynda Bailey and joining the crew of BG 30.

As the helicopter stood by overhead, the Surf and MRNSW vessels arrived on scene and the two men were transferred back to the harbour on board Narooma 30, where they were met by NSW Ambulance paramedics and police.

Mr McGown said it was important for boaters to know how to use their radios in case they found themselves in similar trouble.

“I think people are unsure of them. It’s a bit like us, I suppose. We have this ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. It’s the Aussie way but it’s not really the right way at all,” he said.

While the pair was carrying an EPIRB on board, it was under a shelf and under water within an instant, prompting the boaters to encourage others to keep their EPIRB close at hand in case of an emergency and to consider Personal Locator Beacons as additional safety devices.

After the fisherman were rescued, BG 30 took their boat under tow back to the Bermagui boat ramp, where Mr McGown and Mr Bayldon managed to retrieve it the next day.