Lack of safety communication hampers sailor's rescue

Broken Bay rescue
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A yachtsman who had to phone his wife to communicate that his yacht was in distress has been rescued off the rocks at Maitland Bay, Killcare, to the north of the Broken Bay Entrance north of Sydney, after notifying them that he was off Palm Beach, to the south of Broken Bay. Lack of information hampered and elongated the rescue effort.

Broken Bay Water Police coordinated the rescue of the stricken yachtsman, who was winched to safety by Lifesaver 1 Rescue Helicopter after his 8.3m vessel was washed onto rocks.

Around 5.45pm Sunday (3 November 2013) the captain of the vessel called his wife to say the yacht was in distress off Palm Beach.

Broken Bay Water Police launched a search and rescue operation using Police Vessel Sea Eagle. The team began a search close to land from Palm Beach to North Avalon Headland.

Westpac Lifesaver 1 Rescue Helicopter joined the search along the area south from Barrenjoey Heads to North Avalon. Cottage Point Volunteer Marine Rescue was also recalled to duty to assist.

The Rescue Coordination Centre advised that they had not received any beacon activation in the area. Water Police and Lifesaver 1 were unable to locate the vessel in distress and continued to search in Broken Bay from Flint and Steel to Lion Island.

Police triangulated the mobile call, which was made near Box Head, Wagstaffe.

Around 7.30pm, Lifesaver 1 located the vessel and yachtsman on the northern reef of Maitland Bay, Killcare. The yacht was on the reef, but the sailor had managed to swim a short distance to safety on the rocky shoreline.

He was winched onboard Lifesaver 1 from the beach and taken to North Palm Beach Surf Lifesaving Club, where he was met by NSW Ambulance Paramedics and Northern Beaches police.

The yachtsman was uninjured but shaken.

Due to the extreme wind and sea conditions that night, Water Police were unable to attempt to salvage the yacht.

Water Police visited the site again Monday morning but were unable to get within 300m of the yacht due to surf conditions across the reef.

Commander of the Marine Area Command, Detective Superintendent Mark Hutchings warned of the dangers of Maitland Bay, which was named following a shipwreck that claimed 24 lives.

The paddle steamer PS Maitland was shipwrecked in that bay in 1898 with 34 passengers on board.

'This is a particularly treacherous part of the coastline and should be avoided when the weather is forecast to turn bad,' he said.