Training exercise saves two kayakers on storm lashed Lake Illawarra

Lake Illawarra RIB on Trailer at base
It was sheer good fortune for two kayak fishermen that two rescue vessels from Marine Rescue Port Kembla (Lake Illawarra Base) were taking part in a combined Marine Firefighting exercise with RFS and SES on Lake Illawarra last Saturday 19th March 2011.

Lake Illawarra Rescue (MRLIR) with Nick Budge and Warren Hatherly on board, and Lake Illawarra Marine Rescue RIB (MR RIB), crewed by Graeme McCrudden and Geoff Troth, ferried marine fire crews in rotation to and from training points on the Lake.

By about 1015, the weather had closed in and the wind was 10-15 knots ESE with heavy rain squalls and a short choppy sea of more than 1m all the way to the Drop-Off markers. The ride was rough, slow and wet. Even full wet weather gear only delayed water penetration into inner layers of clothing and most involved were soon wet through with boots full of water as well.

During preparation for the last fire crew changeover, MR RIB was heading out of the Drop-Off point to rendezvous with MRLIR when it was signalled by a kayak fisherman, who indicated that there were two people in the water with a capsized kayak, hanging on to the outer port marker, trying to prevent themselves from being blown into the body of the lake.

MR RIB, already loaded with six on board, immediately made for this marker and alerted MRLIR and Port Kembla Hill 60 Radio Base to the incident. At this time, the weather worsened with increased wind and heavy rain that reduced visibility to about 100m at times.

MR RIB located the upturned kayak at the marker and found two men, one a non-swimmer, clinging tightly to it. Both were wearing lifejackets and were taken aboard, then transported to Windang Wharf. MRLIR retrieved the kayak and some gear and followed MR RIB to Windang Wharf where details were collected for the incident report and two cold and wet fishermen prepared to pack up and get to fish another day.

The RFS teams on board MR RIB and MRLIR had a new experience participating in a real rescue event and assisting the Marine Rescue crew.

This was an enriching encounter for all as well as an important lesson in marine safety. It was gratifying to see that the two men were wearing life jackets, but all on board couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would go fishing in a kayak in such atrocious weather conditions; especially in an area where a mishap could easily lead to the strong wind carrying their kayak away from the shallows into the main body of the lake with a long, cold, slow drift to the western side.

If the crews from Marine Rescue Port Kembla (Lake Illawarra Base) had not been training, this incident and the conditions in which it occurred could have had fatal consequences for both men.

Marine Rescue NSW website