A local whale watching company’s community spirit has buoyed the West Coast Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue crew.
Jamie’s Whaling Station dipped into its philanthropic coffers to throw $10,000 of support RCMSAR’S way and the much needed donation helped keep the organization afloat.
“That is funding that we very, very badly needed,” said RCMSAR’s Dave Payne adding maintenance costs had the organization facing substantial debt.
“It’s a definite life saver financially…I had no idea how we were going to carry on. If we had been a company, I would have been looking at declaring bankruptcy. It’s really saved the whole operation at this point in time.”
RCMSAR is a volunteer-driven crew of roughly 12 locals ready to rescue any mariners maneuvering though the often unrelenting waters surrounding the West Coast.
“If someone’s in trouble at sea, then we have a call out system and down we go to the boat house and get in our vessel and off we go to do what we can,” Payne said.
“If there’s any imminent danger to persons or vessels, then we’re called…Most of the time the situations have happy endings, but not always. We have had some fatalities out there we’ve had to deal with.”
He noted Ucluelet’s harbour is a busy one and the RCMSAR crew offers a vital service.
“When somebody has an incident offshore or somebody’s broken down and being blown up into the rocks, that’s what we do; we go out and get people in those conditions and bring them back into the harbour,” he said.
“If a guy on Little Beach goes out for a paddle out to edge of the open and then all of a sudden is in trouble and washes up on the rocks, who’s going to come get him?”
He said the RCMSAR crew recently rescued a stranded mariner who was stuck between Hitacu and Ucluelet.
“We found him an hour later, very cold, wet and miserable, but otherwise fine,” Payne said. “If we hadn’t of been able to respond, then who knows where he would have ended up? It wouldn’t have been in a happy place.”
He added the team also receives oil spill response training.
“Although that is not one of our mandates per se, all of our people are trained in that,” he said.
“We also will provide backup for other search and rescue groups and first responder organizations where appropriate.”
The Canadian Coast Guard provides financial support for training as well as call outs but little else.
“It’s not a great deal of money and it’s not enough to support the operation itself, so we have to fundraise,” Payne said.
He said the maintenance costs for RCMSAR’S roughly $280,000 vessel can add up.
“Anything that goes wrong, any maintenance, any operating expenses, we have to come up with the funding for it,” he said. “We’ve been operating on donations and some good corporate citizens such as Jamie’s.”
Anyone interested in throwing some financial assistance the rescuers’ way can do so at P.O. Box 725 in Ucluelet. RCMSAR is a registered charitable organization so tax receipts are in play.
Payne said the group feels well supported by the community but added the small population base makes for a shallow pool of financial support.
“All of the first response groups work well together and there is good support there,” he said.
“I feel the community is behind us but it’s a small community and there’s not a huge financial commitment from the community…I generally feel the community is very supportive of what we’re doing.”
New members are always welcome to join the crew and anyone interested in signing up is encouraged to contact Payne at 250-720-7231.
“We’re always looking for new, good people. Basically, everyone’s on call 24/7….You never know when the phone’s going to ring and you’re going to be heading down to the boat house,” he said.
“The more marine experience that you have the better. We’re out in any and all conditions. It can be dark, blowing, foggy, snowing, and if you’re not comfortable on the water it’s going to lessen your ability to deal with the situation. You don’t want to become a liability, you want to be contributing.”
He said joining offers a rewarding experience as locals work to keep Ucluelet’s marine economy alive.
“If you’re working on the water, or playing on the water, and you get in trouble, it’s nice to know there’s an organization and facilities that are going to come and help you out,” he said.
“A lot of it is fun. You get a chance to go out and cruise around at 40-plus knots in extraordinary circumstances.”