It all happened in an instant, says Gary Hind.
One second he was looking at his friend Tracey Harvey sitting at the back of his boat, and the next she was in the water. It was about 8.30am last Tuesday when a small wave hit the boat off the Golden Bay coast, and Tracey slid off the chilly bin she was sitting on. Then, she was in the water.
But when Gary tried to pull her into the boat, it sunk down and water started pouring in. Within seconds it had capsized, leaving the pair floating.
“I thought ‘s**t’. I told Tracey to ‘hold on and don’t let go’,” Gary says.
They were both wearing lifejackets, and on Gary’s one was something that he had only purchased several months before at the urging of his friend, Leon Couper.
It was a Personal Locater Beacon (PLB) which lets you instantly signal for help.
The beacon shows the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) your approximate location, taking the ‘search’ out of search and rescue.
The sooner rescuers can help you, the more likely you are to survive.
“It’s a bloody good insurance policy,” says Gary.
He activated it at 8.35am and within 30 minutes the Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter had arrived and was airlifting Tracey to Nelson Hospital. A launch owned by a doctor at that same hospital came by and picked up Gary.
“We would have drowned if we didn’t have that beacon,” says Gary. “It’s one of those things that could have happened to anybody.”
Leon says he is thankful his friend took his advice and got the beacon.
“Without it they would have been statistics, unfortunately. I just try and drum it into people.”
Leon was a commercial fisherman for many years and knows the dangers of the sea.
“You can’t rely on it and once it gets bad, it can get really bad.”
Leon says cellphones are helpful, but not when they get wet. He says the rough price tag of $350 for a beacon should never be scoffed at.
“What the hell is $350 for your life?”
The RCCNZ works 24/7, 365 days of the year responding to all distress beacon activations.
The team acts quickly to find out as many details as they can about who set off the distress beacon and promptly send search and rescue teams to assist.
RCCNZ senior search and rescue officer Chris Henshaw says the pair were well prepared for an emergency.
“Crucially they were both wearing life jackets with the PLB attached. The PLB and the lifejackets saved their lives. The PLB not only sent out the distress alert but also gave the location in Golden Bay where they had capsized.”
Registering your beacon at www. beacons.org.nz is fast, easy and free. It’s also required by law.
Maritime NZ’s Baz Kirk says every year about 20 people die in recreational boating incidents – many of which could have been prevented.
“We’re urging people to follow the Boating Safety Code and to always have a plan in case things do go wrong. We want everyone to have a great summer – and get home safely after a good day out.”