At the helm of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR) is a retired naval officer.
Captain (Navy) (Ret’d) Bill Riggs’ familiarity with the ocean and his training in the Navy give him the expertise to lead more than 900 search and rescue volunteers.
They operate 44 specialized rescue vessels and 32 marine rescue stations, and are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help the Coast Guard and the military monitor 450,000 square kilometers of the Pacific coast and of the inland lakes and waterways of British Columbia. .
“We have the resources, people and assets on the water and are available to support the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Armed Forces and the province when we need them,” said Riggs, Executive Director of RCMSAR. “Many of our volunteers are also heavily involved in other activities within their communities.”
Through an agreement with the Canadian Coast Guard, RCMSAR can be called in the event of a maritime emergency by the Joint Rescue Coordination Center located at CFB Esquimalt.
People in medical distress, collisions, fires on board, mechanical breakdowns, boats taking on water and missing persons are some of the situations that maritime emergency volunteers tackle. They perform, on average, a third of all rescues at sea each year.
The non-profit organization was founded in 1978 as the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary – Pacific. It was renamed in British Columbia in 2012 to emphasize that its crews are volunteers.
Since 1996, they have responded to more than 2,814 SAR missions and assisted more than 1,966 people, recording over 370,000 volunteer hours in British Columbia.
“The strength of any non-profit organization is its volunteers and they are the ones who make our operation successful,” he says. “Our close ties to the military through our members are also quite remarkable.”
RCMSAR volunteers come from all walks of life, including active duty military and veterans who are making a smooth transition to RCMSAR.
“The military seem perfectly suited to our organization because they bring with them their willingness to work under pressure, as a team, to deploy and respond to any scenario, whatever it may be. “
Riggs says the public and the Navy are mostly unaware of RCMSAR and it’s something he’s working hard to change.
“The work we do is vitally important, and I want to bring our organization to a higher level within the naval community,” he said. “This organization is a great fit for current serving members as well as people like me who have retired and have the time to share our knowledge with other SAR volunteers.”
To learn more about RCMSAR, email [email protected] or visit the website https://rcmsar.com/
A tale of two rescues
Two men with ties to the Royal Canadian Navy have some anecdotes to share about their work as volunteers with the Royal Canadian Navy Search and Rescue.
SLt Ilya Chudakov, 39, marine systems engineer with HMCS Winnipeg, and Earle Shirley, a 68-year-old retiree who served 28 years in the Navy primarily as a Reservist, both volunteers at RCMSAR’s Victoria Lifeboat Station, located at Ogden Point
In 2015, a large wave toppled a scuba diving club boat, sending nine divers into the water off Race Rocks.
A worker at a nearby lighthouse saw the boat capsize and immediately called the Canadian Coast Guard via the Joint Rescue Coordination Center.
Shirley and her team have been dispatched.
“We worked with a ship from our [RCMSAR] sister station to Sooke to rescue the nine divers in extremely rough sea conditions, ”he said.
When they arrived at the scene, some of the divers had climbed onto the overturned boat, others were clinging to it. Due to the rough seas, it was too dangerous to approach the capsized vessel; so they were forced to cast a line and put each diver to safety. They were suffering from mild hypothermia and seasickness, but the RCMSAR team were able to bring them ashore in nearby Pedder Bay where they received medical attention.
Ens1 Chudakov remembers a SAR operation four years ago which was a “valuable learning experience” in dealing with a tense situation.
It started with an emergency call from a motorized sailboat near the Ogden Point Lighthouse. The winds were light and the sea calm, he recalls.
The vessel had broken down in a narrow, busy channel between the marine terminal and the seaplane runway.
SLt Chudakov was part of an RCMSAR team that approached the distressed vessel. It was Shirley, as the boat’s coxswain, who communicated with both the sailboat and Victoria Coast Guard Radio on how to proceed. The occupants of the boat quickly became impatient and upset with the delay, but Shirley defused the situation with her cool.
The boat operators were finally able to regain power and the sailboat made its way safely to port. SLt Chudakov says it is not the nature of the call that followed, but above all the lesson learned in terms of calm and following the necessary procedures, regardless of the circumstances or the frenzy of these. on site.