3 May 2024

Ulladulla's Marine Rescue unit marks a half century of rescues

| Claire Sams
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Skipper Jan Borgelt says the community is invited to support the Marine Rescue unit this weekend.

Skipper Jan Borgelt says the community is invited to support the Marine Rescue unit this weekend. Photo: Marine Rescue NSW.

Yan Borgelt wasn’t the most experienced sailor when he joined Marine Rescue.

“I immigrated to Australia in 2008 from South Africa. I lived in Johannesburg 600 km away from the sea,” he said.

“I came with no experience whatsoever, but I was living close to the water in Cronulla.

“I saw the patrol boats coming in and out of the waterway, and I thought that was interesting, so I eagerly joined.”

He spent 13 years with a Sydney unit, learning the ropes from fellow volunteers – despite the “very steep learning curve” – before making the move to Ulladulla.

Mr Borgelt is now one of the skippers after joining 18 months ago.

“It’s up to us to monitor the radio and run the boats and do every single activity in running an organisation – think treasurer, administration and maintenance,” he said.

“Each volunteer is tasked to help in an area that he or she has some experience in.”

While the Marine Rescue unit is a well-known sight on waters around Ulladulla, its history goes back decades.

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The unit had its start in 1974 as a division of the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol (the RVCP), becoming a fully-fledged division of the patrol in 1979.

When Marine Rescue NSW was formed in 2009, the RVCP was one of three sea rescue organisations it absorbed – including its Ulladulla unit.

Over the decades, it expanded and currently has around 90 volunteers, serving waterways between Jervis Bay and Batemans Bay.

Mr Borgelt said no day was the same out on the water.

“Most of the work that we are involved in is what I call NRMA-type assists,” he said.

“If you’re driving your car and you break down on the side of the road, you call someone to help you – we’re the help for boaters.

“They’re not life-threatening [incidents], but someone has broken down through contaminated fuel or mechanical failure.

“We’ll send someone out to try and fix the problem or we will tow them back to a safe anchorage.

Marine Rescue Ulladulla completed 41 search and rescue missions last year, with its busiest ever year coming in 2017, when volunteers responded to 52 incidents.

“We have also been involved in a few body recoveries, which are not pleasant and a sad reminder that the sea is a very powerful and unpredictable place,” Mr Borgelt said.

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Throughout its 50-year history, the unit has also been called on for larger rescue operations.

“The 1993 Sydney to Hobart race was something that we got called to help with, and we did bring some of the survivors back.”

The team has also been tasked with responding to natural disasters.

“During the [Black Summer] bushfires, a number of the Marine Rescue bases in our area were called up to help with evacuating people,” Mr Borgelt said.

“People were stranded on beaches, and we were called to Bawley Point.

“That was actually quite a dangerous operation. We had people swimming off the beach to our boat.”

The Ulladulla unit launched in the 1970s

The Ulladulla unit launched in the 1970s as a division of the RVCP. Photo: Marine Rescue NSW.

Current and past members of the Ulladulla unit are invited to celebrate the milestone anniversary at a celebration on Saturday (4 May).

“It is a very big achievement,” Mr Borgelt said.

“We’ve organised a morning tea to mark the 50 years of saving lives on the water and all the people that have helped with that journey.

“Whether you’ve only been there for a small amount of time or have done 20 years with the unit, it is a chance to acknowledge your contributions.”

Marine Rescue Ulladulla will mark its 50th anniversary during a ceremony from 10 am at the Ulladulla Civic Centre on Saturday (4 May).

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