By the time search and rescue volunteers were called about a sailboat that struck a rock in Sechelt Inlet on Nov. 26, it was already dark.
At around 4:30 p.m., the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre called the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCM SAR) Station 12 in Halfmoon Bay about an initial report of a vessel that struck a rock near Four Mile Point on the inlet. The sole occupant was abandoning ship and needed help.
Adam Hoult, coxswain and Station 12 leader, responded with two other crew members. When they arrived at their station on the inlet, the volunteers received an update from an RCMP officer that the boater was not in a dinghy like they had thought.
“The individual had actually gone in the water, which obviously is a greater concern for us with the temperature of the inlet at the time of year and the time of day. So it became a lot more urgent, once we got that bit of information,” Hoult told Coast Reporter on Dec. 7.
A nearby civilian boat, the Oracle, also assisted in the search efforts.
“The information was spotty at best,” Hoult said, but what they did know was the boater’s last known coordinates that he provided before abandoning ship. The RCM SAR crew was able to use that information to determine where the man was located, by manoeuvring within 200 metres of shore near Piper Point and calling out. They heard a response, 100 metres south, and located the boater among rocks after a brief shore search.
“He had sustained a significant head injury. And he was extremely hypothermic, but we were able to extricate him off the rock and get him to EHS rather quickly and undoubtedly save that man's life that night,” Hoult said. “So a very good rescue for us. We've had some tough calls this year in the area and this was definitely a highlight to save somebody.”
In the last few months, the RCM SAR Station 12 team has participated in searches for the pilot of a fatal helicopter crash near Egmont, and a missing man near Coopers Green, and helped with the rescue of a couple of boaters after they capsized on the Skookumchuck Narrows.
Communication on Sechelt Inlet has improved, Hoult said, with the recent installation of a new Telus communication tower. There is now cell service all the way to the Skookumchuck rapids, where previously anyone on the water near Nine Mile Point lost the means to communicate, even on VHF radio, because of the mountains.
“That's really made the inlet a lot safer and has already aided us in about three calls up the inlet, because of the ability for people to make phone calls where they weren't able to do it before,” Hoult said.
“I think what saved this gentleman's life is he happened to have PFDs on board and he used them as flotation to get to shore,” Hoult said. The search and rescue volunteers encourage all boats to carry enough personal flotation devices for everyone on board and ensure their vessel is in shipshape before heading out.
“We run into a lot of people who become complacent on the water,” he said. “It's a wild and unforgiving environment at times. So just be heightened and be aware of your surroundings all the time.”