Coastguard presence justified

A helicopter lowers a basket and a rescuer into Lake Wakatipu during a rescue demonstration marking the official launch of Coastguard Queenstown in March. Photo by Tracey Roxburgh.
A helicopter lowers a basket and a rescuer into Lake Wakatipu during a rescue demonstration marking the official launch of Coastguard Queenstown in March. Photo by Tracey Roxburgh.
A few eyebrows were raised last year when it was announced Lake Wakatipu would be patrolled by a Coastguard unit.

It is one of only a few lakes in New Zealand to have a Coastguard unit.

The latest figures released from Coastguard New Zealand show that in four months, Coastguard Queenstown was involved in about the average number of calls for assistance for other South Island units in that time span.

From March to June 30, the Lake Wakatipu-based unit responded to four calls for assistance, acted on two police callouts, and assisted eight people.

Coastguard Southern Region regional manager Cheryl Moffat said on average, from March to June 30, Coastguard units were called out 18 times per unit by the public, nine times by police, and assisted 37 people per unit.

"Extrapolating out the four-month workload for the Queenstown Coastguard unit over 12 months shows they are close to the average workload, especially given the much higher workload of areas like Christchurch where the Coastguard unit has by far the highest number of search-and-rescue missions in the region - 161 calls, 76 Police SAR incidents, and 228 people rescued.

"Looking at the time-frame that Queenstown Coastguard has been operating and the number of calls for assistance they have had over the four months since 'Queenstown Airport Rescue' went into service, we feel that the number of lives saved has more than justified the investment of time and support from both the local community and Coastguard New Zealand in getting the local unit operational," Ms Moffat said.

Coastguard Queenstown president Jay Berriman said six skippers had now completed the Search and Rescue training modules, and other professional volunteers were "well on the way" to completing the Coastguard certificate of competency.

"They've put 684 volunteer hours into training, and in total, 1294 hours in search and rescue, training and running the unit. That's an average of 72 hours per crew member.

"Queenstown Coastguard currently has 18 professional volunteers and would welcome new members."

Mr Berriman said it had been a busy time since setting up the Queenstown unit in January, working with police, Search and Rescue, the New Zealand Fire Service, St John and the Queenstown Airport Corporation.

"Our initial requirement for operational funding has been met thanks to the generous support of Queenstown Airport Corporation, our principle sponsor. This enables us, among other things, to fuel our CRV [Coastguard Rescue Vessel] for training and search-and-rescue operations.

"Queenstown Coastguard could not operate without the continued, generous support of New Zealanders. Support to purchase equipment for the vessel and personal protective equipment for our professional volunteers is vital and much appreciated."