Marine Rescue NSW: volunteers who are the heart of the sea
It's 9am on a summer's day and the team at Marine Rescue NSW are preparing for the morning patrol.
Life jackets and sunscreen at the ready, they board the Middle Harbour 30 (MH30) in Middle Harbour.
The four volunteers are geared up and ready to be tasked an emergency callout at any moment.
In the past year Marine Rescue has assisted more than 3000 vessels on the water in NSW, with almost a quarter being life-threatening emergencies.
At the heart of the organisation are its volunteers, who dedicate their time to saving lives.
Standing at the helm of MH30 is Peter Steigrad, a seasoned volunteer who speaks fondly about the work he does at Marine Rescue.
"I love to be on the water, I've owned numerous boats and I also love contributing to the community" he says. "It was a good fit for me."
Mr Steigrad has been volunteering since 2009 and the 71-year-old often works a 7am to 7pm shift.
"Sometimes your shift will finish but if there's a call you just head straight back out," he said. "I live right near the Middle Harbour unit, so I'm on call pretty much all the time."
The organisation is a not-for-profit community service formed in 2014 as the result of an amalgamation of the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard Association, Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol and Volunteer Rescue Association's marine fleet.
With the exception of a select few, it is run by more than 3000 volunteers.
Ron Van Leer is a trainee who, despite having little boating experience, has an affinity for the water and passion for volunteering.
"Aside from rescuing people, the best part of the job is the people you meet," he said. "You meet so many people of different backgrounds and experiences who bring so much to the team."
Van Leer, 59, who has also volunteered for the Starlight Foundation, Guide Dogs Australia and Animal Welfare League NSW, will complete his final practical assessment for Marine Rescue in March.
"I just love it so much, I wouldn't even consider it work," Mr Van Leer said. "It's not always easy, but it's what we love to do."
While volunteers come from all ages and walks of life, they share a love of the water and helping others.
"There's no ideal candidate for this job," Mr Steigrad said. "I wouldn't exclude anybody because we see lots of different people with lots of different levels of experience ... as long as you're over 16 you can apply."
The organisation patrols the entire coast of NSW, with 45 units spanning from Point Danger in northern NSW, to Eden in the far south.
With 17 drowning deaths recorded in NSW since December 18 Marine Rescue is urging boaters to be vigilant.
"The summer is our busiest period," Mr Steigrad said. "Anyone who plans on being on the water should be wearing a life jacket, check the vessel before departure and log on with the nearest Marine Rescue NSW unit or on the app."
Since the introduction of the app in 2014, its usage has tripled, with nearly 20 per cent of boaters now logging on via the app.
"It's a fantastic use of technology and as more people become familiar with it we will be able to respond to emergencies more efficiently," Mr Steigrad said. "That's our goal; it's all about educating people and keeping them safe."
For more information, go to Marine Rescue
The story Marine Rescue NSW: volunteers who are the heart of the sea first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.