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Beacons beckon for help at sea
Friday 14 August 2015 – 9:50 AM

​Western Australian Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) groups have recently responded to four emergency beacon activations in six days, highlighting the vital importance of beacons in saving lives at sea.

The Bunbury VMR group responded to a call for assistance from WA Police late in the afternoon on Friday 31 July, after three men on a fishing trip experienced engine trouble off the coast and activated their Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).
The crew on the VMR vessel, Spirit of Bunbury, braved the rough and windy conditions at sea to search for the missing vessel while daylight was fading.
Travelling to the boat’s last known whereabouts the crew were unable to locate it, as the men on board had managed to re-start their runabout while the rescue crew were en route and they had travelled six nautical miles before again losing power.
Bunbury VMRS ran into difficulties themselves as the use of multiple search lights on board caused electrical problems and their vessel lost power, however they soldiered on with hand held torches until emergency power and search lighting were restored.
Without radio communication with the broken down vessel but managing to communicate by mobile phone, the VMRS crew were relieved to eventually locate the missing men.
Bunbury VMR group skipper Eliot Fisher said it was a fortunate conclusion to what was potentially a very dangerous situation and the crew were delighted to find the fishermen after hours of searching.
“We had some difficulties during the search and the fishermen had fired their last flare,” Eliot said.
“They were distressed and extremely cold but otherwise in good health.”
Between 29 July and 3 August, VMR groups in Carnarvon, Kalbarri and Coral Bay also rushed to the aid of seafarers who had activated their EPIRBs for reasons including engine failure and running aground on offshore islands.
Kalbarri VMR Commander Barry Kennewell said the Kalbarri rescue was also a difficult undertaking due to poor weather conditions.
“The vessel in trouble had tried to gain the attention of a passing vessel by firing a flare but  it was so windy the flare was blown horizontally across the water rather than up into the air,” Barry said.
“It was a good thing they had an operating EPIRB as it was a situation that had the potential to go badly.”
Deputy  Commissioner Steve Fewster said the recent spate of marine rescues demonstrates the skills and dedication of VMR groups, and the importance of EPIRBs.
“It is vital that people heading out to sea have a serviceable EPIRB that is registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority [AMSA] on board” Deputy  Commissioner Fewster said.
“If they run into trouble and activate their beacon it alerts AMSA to their whereabouts, and depending on the location of the beacon the WA Police and appropriate VMR groups are quickly activated to respond.
“The use of EPIRBs makes it much easier to find people who have encountered trouble at sea and means a favourable outcome is much more likely.
“The VMR groups involved in these rescues are to be commended for their hard work in difficult circumstances.”
DFES VMR groups in Western Australia have undertaken 20 rescues initiated by EPIRB activations in the last year.
Marine safety tips
  • Make sure you register your EPIRB with AMSA
  • Ensure your vessel and equipment are properly maintained
  • Check you have all the legally required safety equipment
  • Consult the marine weather report before departure
  • Ensure you have sufficient fuel and reserve
  • Inform someone of your trip intentions.