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Paynesville Coast Guard riding the swell
Paynesville is the only coast guard flotilla that is both operational on the water and monitors all coastal radio towers from Mallacoota to Portland.
While private company Kordia will soon perform 24/7 coastal monitoring and more repeater towers have subsequently been built, the flotilla is not letting its guard down.
In less than two years, Paynesville Coast Guard flotilla has moved from two qualified marine responders to the current 35 either qualified or well on the way with guidance from ex-CFA district manager Ross McGregor.
The number of trainers has also risen from one to six including an ex-Royal Australian Air Force security expert and two ex-Victoria Police trainers now teaching general seamanship. One of the latter is also updating all the flotilla’s standards operating procedures and instruction manuals, while an ex-MICA paramedic instructor is the flotilla’s first aid trainer.
“We’ve got a dynamic retired community,” said Commander Jeff JJ Williams. “We’ve managed to attract people with high-level and relevant experience who love to mess around in boats.”
To serve the reinvigorated flotilla, a new 35-foot boat is being custom-built in Queensland with $300,000 government funds and $150,000 raised by the fundraising team.
It will replace their eight-year-old 25-foot vessel which can struggle in local conditions.
A gale means winds of more than 60 kilometres an hour or 35 knots. “Two-metre-tall waves with 12 metres in between means a short, sharp chop so you can’t safely get any speed up in our boat,” continued JJ who’s sometimes known as Commander Bower Bird.
“Anything bright and shiny; I want it,” he said, and when he saw the DELWP nine-metre jet boat unused in the local marina, he sought and got access. In the past year, they’ve turned out to three fires in that vessel. With marina fires the greatest risk in dollar terms, it’s a great boost in response capacity.
Maydays are received by the local Water Police who then dispatch the coast guard. The flotilla averages 80 turnouts a year with running aground on sand the major problem followed by boats breaking down, flat batteries or towing a vessel that’s run out of fuel.
Their response area is 100 kilometres long from the port of Sale to Metung and includes 420 square-kilometres in the Gippsland Lakes with Lakes Entrance Coast Guard their backup.
Of the 48 current members, eight are solely involved in monitoring the radios while six help with fundraising. All the rest perform both radio and boat duties and include seven skippers with another five on the way through training.
Australian Volunteer Coast Guard in Victoria is in a season of relatively smooth sailing after navigating rough waters earlier last year when they almost had to close their doors.
“AMSA [Australian Maritime Safety Authority] was putting more compliance pressure on us and some funding promises hadn’t been realised,” explained JJ. “Now funding for insurance, maintenance, training, infrastructure and fuel is government funded and within 12 months we’re confident we’ll be on a funding platform similar to CFA’s.
“There used to be no government oversight but our local commodore led negotiations and we were taken under the EMV umbrella in 2016.”
The flotilla does a training exercise once a year with CFA, and JJ praised the support of Operations Officer Glenn Harrap, Operations Manager Daryll Hunter and especially Chief Officer Steve Warrington.
“CFA doesn’t put great demands on us, yet,” said JJ, “and we’re working to become more of a professional tool within the CFA command structure.”