Howick News

All aboard with the Coastguard

By HEATHER McCRACKEN - Central Leader | Thursday, 03 July 2008

dean lawrence ian gibson

A thank you is the only reward Craig Houkamau wants for spending his spare time keeping boaties safe.

The Coastguard volunteer of four years says a grateful skipper's thanks goes a long way.

"I've been on jobs where someone's been in serious trouble, and you've managed to help them out," he says.

"The guys sometimes come down later on and say "thanks very much".

"When you get that sort of thing it makes you think we are doing something good, and people appreciate us."

Mr Houkamau is one of 2500 Coastguard volunteers throughout New Zealand.

Together they put in 270,000 hours every year fielding distress calls from boats, registering trip reports and fundraising to keep the organisation running.

Running the national Coastguard network costs $8.5 million a year, but the organisation relies on donations, trusts, raffles and the work of volunteers to keep operating.

Ian Gibson, a skipper from the Howick base, has been with Coastguard for 10 years. He says he loves being on the water, and the comradery with other volunteers.

"Those incidents in the middle of the night where you're flying along at 30 knots in the pitch black with the adrenalin going - that's great," he says.

Mr Gibson says attitudes towards safety on the water are changing, but some boaties still make bad decisions and put themselves in danger.

"Plenty of people go out who shouldn't go out, with large numbers of people on their boats," he says.

"There's a lot more education these days than there has been and people are beginning to learn."

But it's getting tougher to find volunteers, and those who do join serve for a shorter time before moving on, he says.

"I run my own business so I can drop everything and come out and make up the time later. A lot of guys are employed and can't do that."

Coastguard Northern Region chief executive Dean Lawrence says they're committed to responding to any call for help.

That's despite three quarters of calls relating to non-life-threatening incidents, such as mechanical failure or running out of fuel.

Only about 11,000 members have signed up for an $95 annual fee to cover rescue costs, out of an estimated 100,000 recreational boats in Auckland.

"So we only have 10 percent of the boating population supporting the organisation, yet they all use us at sometime," Mr Lawrence says.

Two bills now before parliament, the Land Transport Amendment Bill and Regional Amenities Funding Bill, aim to provide more secure funding for Coastguard services.

They would mean funding from fuel excise tax and guaranteed contributions from local authorities.

MP Mark Goshe, chairman of the transport and industrial relations select committee, was on the water this week to see Coastguard crews at work.

He says it's good to see attitudes to life jackets and water safety changing.

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