THE champagne flowed at Fingal Bay Sports Club last week, but in between the frivolity, guests received a sobering message about the important rescue operations conducted by Marine Rescue Port Stephens.
Patrons were treated to a champagne lunch with money from meals and raffles going towards this vital emergency service.
Port Stephens deputy unit commander Neil Hansford spoke about the often unrecognised work of the volunteer-run organisation.
The service has close to 200 members, aged between 19 and 92 years.
Volunteers routinely put their own lives in hazardous situations to save others on open and closed waters in and around Port Stephens.
Marine Rescue Port Stephens operates a Communications Centre and two rescue vessels.
But communication from boating enthusiasts leaves a lot to be desired.
“Eighty percent of people in trouble, we don’t know are out there,” Mr Hansford said.
The service operates 24 hours a day every day of the year.
Volunteers conduct rescue operations in “some of the most treacherous seas” in the region including Broughton Island and Stockton Bite,” he said.
With an average age of 65 for volunteer members, “a bit of grey hair or no hair certainly helps,” Mr Hansford quipped.
As well as being an accredited Search and Rescue Coordination Centre (SARCC), a lesser-known function of Marine Rescue Port Stephens is their Communications Centre service for RFS Lower Hunter Fire Control from 5pm to 9am.
The unit also sends daily weather observations to the Bureau of Meteorology as well as weather reports to local media organisations and boat hire operators.
Donations and fundraising activities are a vital lifeline to Marine Rescue Port Stephens.
Operation costs are high, and “less than 20 percent of funding comes from the government,” Mr Hansford said.
The bravery of 21 members was formally recognised last month for a rescue operation involving vessels struck by perilous conditions on return from the Pittwater to Coffs Harbour yacht race in January 2016.
The unit’s “Danial Thain” was knocked down three times before returning to Port.
A Marine Rescue NSW Medal of Valour was awarded to Laurie Nolan for saving two crew members.