Coastguard Wellington was formed as a result of the Wahine disaster and the events that surrounded the rescue operations of passengers and crew. A public meeting, chaired by the Mayor of Eastbourne, Mr P.L. Bishop OBE, was held on 11 July 1968 to consider the formation of a volunteer lifeboat operation.
The decision was made to establish an organisation to be based in Eastbourne, and to launch a national fund raising appeal. Mr Graham Barrell was appointed Secretary-Organiser and was requested to report on the citing of the lifeboat and on fund-raising. Inevitably as in any fledgling organisation, meeting after meeting took place and where in Wellington crews could be available from, where the life-boat should be situated and whether it should be voluntary or have a professional base etc were debated. The outcome was that Evans Bay was to be the site of the Wellington lifeboat crewed by Wellington based volunteers.
In 1969 Captain Meatyard was appointed President of the Wellington Harbour Lifeboat Institution and the Organisation’s name was changed to Wellington Sea Rescue Inc. In 1991 it was again renamed Wellington Volunteer Coastguard Inc after affiliation to the Royal New Zealand Coastguard Federation. After operating out of a boatshed for a number of years, the distinctive octagonal base designed by Wellington Harbour Board Chief Engineer, K.S. Renner, was opened in 1982 at Evans Bay Marina.
In early 1969 the Institute had raised about $25,000 and with assistance from Plylite Marine, at Paraparaumu, the first dedicated rescue vessel (Caribbean Rescue, the Plylite design name) was commissioned in August 1969. In 1972 a 6m Bertram semi-cabin design was commissioned from Plylite. This gave better weather and sea protection to the crew and allowed greater range for sea rescues. In 1974 a larger more specialised rescue vessel was commissioned to replace Caribbean Rescue. Frank Pelen of Auckland, designed the first 8m Spirit of Wellington, which was built by Sinclair Melbourne in Lyttelton.
In 1989 Bertram Rescue was sold and her replacement was a RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) UDC Finance Rescue, built by Naiad Boats in Picton. In 1997 the wooden Spirit of Wellington was replaced with a 12 metre RHIB also built by Naiad in Picton. This vessel is also the back-up pilot boat for CentrePort so there has been some compromise in design to accommodate their needs. In 2010 Phoenix Rescue, as UDC Finance Rescue had since become, was decommissioned and a 6.8m semi cabin Naiad was leased from Coastguard NZ whilst funding for a new vessel is sort.
From a dedicated group of about 15 people in 1969 Wellington Volunteer Coastguard has now about 80 active crew who are on the water every weekend and public holiday (except Christmas Day). At all other times a crew is on-call by pager.