MayDay Rescue Appeal 2016

Coastguard volunteers were there when 60 people needed their help. A donation today will help them be there for the next rescue, too.

To the volunteers on standby, it was a worst-case scenario: 60 desperate people on a burning boat, a kilometre from the shore, in torrential rain and howling wind.

Many of us will never face something so nightmarish.  But for a small team of Coastguard volunteers it was very real, and it came at them like a steam train.

The Peejay V tourist boat was returning from White Island, in the Bay of Plenty, with 60 passengers and crew on board.  The wind had whipped the waves into big peaks and it was bucketing down.

The first sign that something was wrong was when passengers and crew started to see puffs of black smoke coming from below decks.

The crew checked the engine room - a large fire had broken out and was spreading alarmingly, just a few feet from the passengers above.

Burning Boat

It got very serious, very quickly. The Peejay V’s crew made the quick call that all on board would have to abandon ship, in the clothes they’d put on that morning, regardless of whether they could swim or not.

60 people were in real danger of drowning.

With passengers and crew scrambling for their gear and lifejackets, and preparing to jump overboard, the Mayday call went out.

Whakatane volunteer Neil Mower was on Coastguard duty at the time. A local man, he’s been volunteering as part of the crew for five years.

He told us, “it was absolute bedlam – but we could not have been better prepared.”

The Coastguard rescue vessel was launched and other local boats joined the rescue. Passengers were in the sea, a boat was ablaze, and the conditions were terrible.

But slowly, methodically, survivors were located in the sea and hauled onto the rescue boats. They were cold, drenched, and in shock. One man stared numbly through his glasses, only to realise that one lens was missing.

As smoke from the burning Peejay V filled the harbour, rescue boats sped back to shore, where Coastguard volunteers and emergency services looked after them.

Stunned survivors made their way to the Coastguard base. Children were given towels to dry themselves and huddle under, whilst some older passengers were given jackets to keep out the rain.

One by one, medical teams checked each person for injuries. But whilst a handful of people were taken to hospital with minor injuries, everyone had made it back alive.

The team had excelled during a high-pressure rescue.

“We’re so relieved everyone made it to shore safely,” said Coastguard Whakatane volunteer and President, Jim Williamson. “Our search and rescue training and meticulous planning meant that we were able to respond extremely efficiently and effectively.”

Jim, Neil and the crew are experts at what they do, and on call when needed. But specialised search and rescue training is an ongoing cost for our charity and is funded thanks to your generosity.

Each week, we need to find over $5,000 to train our volunteer crews.

Will you give a donation today so that more volunteers can be trained and ready to save lives at sea?

  • $25 provides an hour's observation training for a new recruit

  • $50 gives a volunteer one hour of core search and rescue training

  • $125 provides complete victim recovery training for a volunteer

Less than an hour after the Peejay V caught fire, it was burnt to nothing and had sunk beneath the waves.  If our volunteer rescue crews hadn’t been there, 60 people might have gone down with it.

Boats can be replaced.  But people can’t.

Please give a gift today to help our heroes save lives at sea.

Give a gift

Your donation helps our heroes save lives at sea.

Donate to Coastguard

Become a Member

Peace of mind every time you hit the water, knowing we’ve got your back.

Find out how to become a member

Book a Course

Increase your knowledge and confidence by completing a boating course.

Book a boating course
  • Hutchwilco
  • Lotteries Grants Board
  • NZCT
  • Lion Foundation
  • Pub Charity
  • Century Batteries
  • Bellingham Wallace