Did you know that it was the persistent letter-writing of a Simon’s Town swimming teacher that led to the establishment of the NSRI in South Africa?

Miss Pattie Price was so moved by a tragic incident in 1966 in Stilbaai that left 17 fishermen drowned that she began writing letters to the local newspaper to motivate for a sea rescue organisation in the country. Miss Price had been rescued by a RNLI lifeboat in the English Channel in 1942 and she believed a similar organisation could save lives in SA.

A year after the fishing tragedy, the first iteration of the NSRI was established. The Society of Master Mariners donated an inflatable boat, and two volunteers, Captain Bob Deacon and Ray Lant became the first rescuers.

The rest is history.

Thousands of lives have been saved by the incredible work done by NSRI volunteers around the country.

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This Women’s Month, we are celebrating the women heroes behind the NSRI. All4Women reached out to the Melkbosstrand NSRI crew which boast the MOST female rescue volunteers countrywide!

Here’s what they had to say about being part of the organisation:

Anneline Niemand and her son
Anneline Niemand and her son
(Image source: supplied)

A family affair!

After Anneline Niemand’s husband joined the NSRI five years ago, he raved about what an “amazing” organisation it was, which prompted Anneline to start serving as a volunteer. Her son also tagged along “so by the time he turned 14, he was ready to join our Junior Trainee Crew.”

“As a Mom, I can honestly say that this was one of the best decisions we could make in order to equip our son for the future. The discipline of a structured organisation, and the sense of service to the community, as well as the sacrifices made, have been invaluable in shaping him,” says Anneline.

Being part of the Station 18 crew is like having an extended family

“While the men respect us as females, we do not get any special treatment when it comes to performing our duties in and around the station or on the water,” says Anneline. “Melkbosstrand has a family atmosphere with a huge amount of respect between all crew members irrespective of race, age or gender.”

“At Melkbosstrand we also have a Surf Rescue Swimmer (Lifeguard) unit that is an integral component of the Station. Our Surf Rescue Swimmers which are mostly female,  provide a lifesaving service on our beach over the weekends and holiday periods.

Voluntary service

Many South Africans don’t know that the NSRI rescue crews are ALL volunteers. They offer up their time and expertise, and undergo rigorous training to help save lives – all on a voluntary basis.

“The NSRI can consume a huge amount of your time if you let it,” says Anneline. NSRI is our passion, it’s what we do with our spare time but if you do not manage it, it can consume all your time.”

“We are volunteers; we come from all walks of life. Some are successful business people while others work for an employer and still some are unemployed. There are those who are still at school and others who are at university. It does not matter who you are as long as you have that one common factor, to train, to learn and to be able to save a life. We do not get paid to provide this service.”

16-Year-old Genevieve Hennessy is still in school, but already dedicates much of her time to lifeguard duty. “I sit lifeguard duty for 14 hours a weekend for about eight weekends a year. We also do lifeguard training 3 times a week as well as competitions and other events. I’d say that I spend on average about 450 hours at the station a year.”

“Being a woman in NSRI has taught me that there isn’t actually a big difference between men and women,” says Hennessy. “Everyday I watch the women at our station perform at the same or an even better level than the men.”

Lylanie Berg (38) says she joined NSRI because “I wanted to be part of something that meant something.” In her day job, she’s a legal adviser in the Financial Services Industry, but she enjoys the challenge of being part of the NSRI. “You never know when the ball will drop. Teamwork is the only way you can get things done in this organisation. Stick together and make each other better.”

Megan Erasmus (21) is a Trainee Coxswain, and Crewman. She was inspired to join by her parents who have been NSRI volunteers since 2010. “My parents started volunteering in 2010. I was 12 at the time and wasn’t allowed to join with them, but I started my task book and courses and when I turned 16 I qualified a week later.”

“NSRI really taught me how to push my limits, and I love that I learn something new every time I enter base. I also love the comradery between us, male – female, we all respect each other and help each other reach the end goal.”

How does the Station 18 crew function?

The team is divided up into three rescue crews which are rotated for duty. They volunteer for one week out of every three weeks.

“On the week that your crew is on duty, you are on call 24/7,” explains Anneline. “And if its high season and you are a Surf Rescue Swimmer, you are on the beach on the weekend whilst your crew is on duty. Duty starts at 18:00 on the Friday to 18:00 the following Friday evening. All call and rescue responses will be handled by the crew on duty.”

“NSRI volunteers give of their time. This is our contribution to our organisation and more importantly, to our sea going community. Time, as the saying goes, is money. The NSRI volunteers give with their time, their hearts, their skills and their efforts to save lives on South African waters.”

Favourite rescue moments

“My favourite rescue is any rescue where we are able to give a child back to its parents or a father back to his family,” says Anneline. “Regardless of the role I played on the day. Whether in the Control Room, Operating the Rescue Vehicle, the Surf Rescue Swimmer on the beach or the Rescue Crewman out on the water, it is the collective effort of the team that makes it happen.”

“My favourite rescue is any rescue where we are able to give a child back to its parents or a father back to his family”

“That feeling when you go home and you know that today, you made a difference in someone’s life. Because of the efforts, the training and the competence that you and your crew possess, someone has a second chance at life. There is no way to describing the emotions and elations that go through your being at the moment.”

How is NSRI funded?

While the organisation does get limited funding from various government sources, it is the support of its many donors, that helps the NSRI continue saving lives.

“From the pensioner who is able to donate a little something every month to the corporates who are able to give generously, we are grateful for every donation,” says Anneline.

Ways to donate

“When you donate to Sea Rescue, we value your contribution and pay you respect by managing donations wisely.  Our rescue crew are all unpaid volunteers and they do not draw salaries. We make every effort to fund administrative costs out of specific corporate donations for that purpose so that individual donor funds go towards boats, fuel, safety equipment, bases, medical equipment.”

Find out how to donate or support the organisation HERE.