VOLUNTEER units of the newly-branded Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue stationed on the North Shore expect they may be called on to respond to double the past number of marine emergencies when the official Kitsilano Coast Guard station closes this spring.
Currently the two stations based on the North Shore — one in West Vancouver and one in North Vancouver — respond to between 70 and 80 emergency calls a year. Those include everything from sinking boats, boats on fire, lost kayakers and medical aid in remote access locations, said Randy Standt, a coxswain with the North Vancouver marine rescue group and past-president of the society overseeing volunteer marine rescue units in the province.
When the federal government closes the Kitsilano Coast Guard station this spring, local volunteers expect to pick up a lot of the slack.
“There is an expectation there will be more calls. It could be double,” said Standt.
Standt said both the North Vancouver and West Vancouver marine rescue boat crews are anticipating being called into English Bay more often.
Last month, the North Vancouver rescue boat was moved from its previous location at the Deep Cove Yacht Club to a new home at Lynnwood Marina, next to the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing.
The move puts the rescue boat closer to the majority of boating activity in harbour. Standt said it will also likely result in a faster response time since most of the volunteers live or work closer to the new boat location.
The rescue units have a policy that volunteers must be able to reach the boat within 15 minutes when they are on call.
Currently the North Vancouver marine rescue unit has 30 fully trained volunteers and is in the process of recruiting and training five more people. Four volunteers are on call at all times.
Standt said he isn’t worried about the potential increase in the number of calls. The volunteer marine rescue station in Nanaimo has been handling 90 calls a year for the past five years, said Standt. Standt said although the marine rescue boats are run by volunteers, they are all well-trained to handle emergency calls. Standt compared the marine rescue units to volunteer firefighters who respond to emergencies in many communities.
He added that in Europe, where there is much more shipping traffic, marine rescue is almost entirely volunteer. “It’s actually the norm around the world,” he said. “Not the exception.”
Still, the decision of the federal government to close the busy Kitsilano Coast Guard station at the entrance to False Creek as a cost-cutting measure remains highly controversial.
Ottawa announced last week it will install a new three-person rescue boat at its Stanley Park base that will operate from May to September. The teams running the boat will consist of one professional Coast Guard coxswain and two trained students.
In addition to the North Shore marine rescue units, there are also units in Delta, White Rock and Richmond in the Vancouver area, plus three others relatively close by, said Standt.
The whole Pacific Coast region, about 36 units, receives about $1 million in annual funding from the federal government. Ottawa recently announced a top-up of about $100,000 to pay for the anticipated increases in training and fuel costs.