Volunteers Helping to Save Lives

Whether it’s a medical emergency, a missing boater, or a vessel in trouble, Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (CCGA) members are ready and willing to help fellow mariners in distress.

badge-and-mottoAn important part of the national search and rescue response system, CCGA members are commercial fishermen and recreational boaters who volunteer their own time, vessels, and equipment to assist fellow mariners in distress and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) with search and rescue activities.

In Canada, the participation of volunteers in marine rescue dates back to before Confederation, but by the 1970s it became clear that a formal volunteer network was needed to provide a more effective response to marine incidents and a wider safety net for mariners.

It was these objectives that led to the formation of the CCGA in 1978. Today, the Auxiliary iswell-coordinated, provides training opportunities, and participates in multi-agency search and rescue exercises to practice and hone their members’ skills.

Atlantic Canada has some of the most dangerous coastlines in the world and mariners here, including the over 1,550 dedicated CCGA volunteers, know weather conditions can change at a moment’s notice and equipment can fail.

Despite being prepared, and keeping safety gear onboard vessels, the unexpected can still happen and a vessel and its crew can find themselves in trouble. The comradery and sense of community among mariners ensure most people willingly help others escape harm’s way but it is important to know that the Canada Shipping Act 2001 requires all vessels at sea to respond and assist in distress situations, provided they do not put themselves or their vessel at risk.

Any mariner can be tasked by the Canadian Coast Guard to go to the aid of any vessel, but the more than 780 privately owned vessels of CCGA members are ready to assist 24/7 whether they are docked or already at sea.

Depending on the situation, the actions of a responder can mean life or death and having the right knowledge and training can save lives. Training is a mandatory part of becoming a CCGA member. Auxiliary volunteers are First Aid and CPR certified and take part in specialized training that simulates real-life situations. On-water exercises are held 35 to 40 times a year for members to learn and practice general marine safety and search and rescue (SAR) techniques.

They practice boarding vessels, rescuing victims and reacting quickly to unexpected situations. Dedicated CCGA members often brave high winds and less than ideal sea conditions to make sure they’re prepared in the case of a real emergency. More extensive training scenarios involving various members of the SAR response system, including CCGA, CCG, DND, RCMP, hospitals and vessels, are also held regularly.

As an organization, the Auxiliary receives financial assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard to cover the costs associated with training, insurance and other activities. As well, when an Auxiliary member responds to a call for help, they receive a small stipend to cover the cost of fuel.

It’s a point of pride for the Canadian Coast Guard that almost 90 per cent of Auxiliary members in Atlantic Canada are involved in the fishery. Their knowledge, training, excellent seamanship and experience in navigating our sometimes hostile waters are an invaluable part of the search and rescue system and the Canadian Coast Guard is thankful for the invaluable service they provide.

If you’re not already involved with this extraordinary group of volunteers and want to learn more, call 1-800-563-6158 (Newfoundland and Labrador) or email fboudreau@ccga-m.ca (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia or P.E.I.).

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