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‘Thanks for the memories’: VMR Whitsunday

By Ray White Whitsunday

VOLUNTEER Marine Rescue Whitsunday (VMRW) completed 126 activations last year, more than double the number of activations made 20 years ago.

Total crew hours on the water last year were almost 2,100 hours for the organisation, which covers an area of more than 13,000 sq kms and is manned totally by volunteers.

VMR president Mal Priday said the current organisation started in 1964 when “some keen boaties met at the Metropole in Proserpine,” having seen the need for a water-based rescue service.

“Initially they used their own private boats under the Air Sea Rescue banner, but in time they managed to raise enough money to buy a dedicated boat, ASR1, a 6.2 metre runabout,” he said.

“In 1984 a temporary site was obtained near Whitsunday police station and a donga previously used by the ambulance service at Abbott Point was bought, refitted as a radio room, and put on site as the new radio base.”

Volunteer Marine Rescue Whitsunday, which today sits on the same site, was the first VMR in the state, named after the radio callsigns allocated nationally to all rescue organisations.

“We are VMR442 and, in time, the state body adopted the new name and all Air Sea Rescue squadrons became VMR. We are proud to still have use of the callsign “VMR1″ for our primary boat, Coral Sea Marina VMR1.”

In 1994, construction started on the present building for the Combined Marine Club, comprising VMR Whitsunday, the Whitsunday Game Fish Club and the Whitsunday Power Boat Club.

In 1999, VMRW completed 50 activations, including three medevacs, accounting for about 721 man-hours on the water.

Last year, the total was 126 activations (excluding training) up more than 8.5 per cent on the 116 of 2018 and well above the 82 from 2017.

“The largest increase was in medevacs, which went from 17 in 2017, to 33 in 2018, and 41 in 2019,” Mr Priday said, adding that some activations stood out more than others, with some successful and some not so successful.

“Some are life threatening situations for rescuers, some are urgent transfers of paramedics to the islands, and some are tow-and-assists for simple breakdowns, or boats out of fuel, for numerous grateful boaties in vessels of all shapes and sizes.”

Mr Priday said VMR Whitsunday was “delighted” at the level of support from the community.

“No doubt helped by the awareness of our activities created in print by the Times and the Guardian, and we are optimistic that the great community support will continue to help us save lives at sea,” he said.

Marine Rescue organisations around the state are waiting for an update from the State Government on the fate of the Blue Water Review, which was looking at merging all marine rescue organisations in the state into a single body with more realistic funding that would guarantee the continuation and survival of those organisations.

“When the current model was instituted many years ago, it provided about 50 per cent of the funding required for those organisations,” Mr Priday said.

“Today, that figure has not changed, but rising costs of vessels and operation mean that it now equates to only about 15 per cent and that is clearly not sustainable statewide.

“Not one of our volunteers is paid, and they make themselves available 24/7 in all conditions so we can keep our marine rescue net operating to ensure the safety of the boating and island communities of the Whitsundays.

“We even have to pay to be a member and have to buy our own uniforms! None of our volunteers do it for recognition, they simply see it as a way of putting something back into the community with a vital service.

“The Whitsundays has the highest ratio of boat ownership in Queensland – about 16 per cent, or one in six people, have access to a boat. If you have a boat, you can join online – it is cheap insurance, and gives us some funding to be there when you might need us.

“The Times and the Guardian have been part of our growth, and we are sorry to see the hard copies ceasing, but it is nice to know that the news will continue to be available online.”

Source: Whitsunday Times

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