Shuswap lifeboat crew sees busy first year

The first weekend tested the skills of the crews assigned to Shuswap Lifeboat One, the marine SAR boat outfitted for the task

The volunteer crew aboard Shuswap Lifeboat One attend one of the numerous emergency call-outs on Shuswap Lake received over the summer by Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Shuswap Station #106.

The newest and first inland marine search and rescue station, based in Sicamous, was one of the busiest of 48 stations in B.C. this past season.

Formally known as the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (Pacific), the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCM-SAR) Shuswap Station #106 began operations on the May long weekend after extensive training in marine search and rescue  techniques from December 2011 to May 2012 on the Shuswap, and at training facilities located near Victoria.

The first weekend tested the skills of the crews assigned to Shuswap Lifeboat One, the marine SAR boat outfitted for the task. After that it, was all out, resulting in 44 successful missions between the May and September long weekends. Everything from searching for missing/overdue boats, to broken bones and strokes, says station leader Rob Sutherland.

The Shuswap station crew also had the opportunity to work with the land-based Shuswap Search and Rescue unit, located in Salmon Arm, when two vacationers fell into a gorge at Albas Falls, located on Seymour Arm. One was killed and the other, who tried to save him, broke both of his legs. Sutherland says co-ordination between the two SAR units, as well as the BCAS helicopter crew who evacuated the injured man, was intense and well executed – “proof that training was the key to the mission’s success.”

Sutherland says all of last season’s missions are being reviewed for opportunities to learn and improve. And, based in part on those missions, a winter training program has been developed to further enhance the skill and knowledge of the Shuswap station’s 24 members.

“They have shown a lot of dedication and skill since we began last December,” says Sutherland. “All of us are volunteers and it takes a commitment from everyone to produce the results we had over the summer.” That commitment was recognized at the annual general meeting of RCM-SAR held in Richmond, B.C. in September. RCM-SAR president Jim Lee presented the Shuswap station with a plaque for “Outstanding Achievement & Dedication to Saving Lives on the Water In their First Year of Operation.”

Sutherland accepted the plaque and was given the opportunity to explain why a marine SAR station was required on what is perceived by most as safe waters (inland lakes).

“The Shuswap and Mara lake systems are unique in that much of it is not accessible by road,” says Sutherland. “That, coupled with the thousands of house boaters and vacationers using the lake and marine parks presents a high risk of accidents. This was proven over this past season.

“Lives were saved and injuries tended to on the spot and some were transported to local hospitals.

“Our Marine SAR operations depend on donations and Sicamous businesses came though with their complete support. The plaque represents an achievement that, without support, could not have happened…” As with any organization that depends on donations to operate, explains Sutherland, the RCM-SAR Shuswap Station #106 future has a continuous task ahead of it. Ongoing effort will be put into recruitment of new volunteers, training and operations, upgrading and maintaining SAR equipment, and as a  long-term goal, planning for the replacing the society’s used 1976 Lifetimer rescue boat,  which is expected to cost up to $160,000.

“Annual operations costs will be upwards of $30,000 per year, and sustains the station with fuel, maintenance and repairs, repair and replacement of SAR equipment and moorage to mention a few,” says Sutherland. “Very generous donations from Sicamous businesses and BC Lottery gaming have started our station, and commitments have been made for our next season.

“But this is an operation that provides marine SAR for the whole of the Shuswap and Mara lake systems… and thus should be supported by all that use the lake, that have customers that use the lake, and communities that depend on the lake through vacationers and tourism.”

Those interested in saving lives and/or offering monetary support, or wanting further information, may call 250-836-2396 or 250-833-7677.

Submitted by Rob Sutherland, station leader of RCM-SAR Shuswap Station #106.