Marleen Kiral and Scott Burchett are volunteers with the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue station. The local crew of about 25 members responds to a variety of marine incidents every year.

Search and rescue volunteers help make local waters safe

Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue station in Sooke needs volunteers

You’re sitting at your desk working, when the pager goes off with two chilling words: missing person. You take off, get to the station, gear up and your day just begins.

This is a reality for the 25 or so volunteers who crew the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue station in Sooke, around the clock, 365 days a year.

Of course, like any volunteer job, there’s no paycheque at the end of the day, just the satisfaction of having done something really good for your community, said RCM-SAR deck crew member Scott Burchett.

“Nothing will make you feel better than being able to return a child back to their parent, or a husband back to his wife, or vice-versa,” he said. “You feel good about that … it’s a very intrinsic, motivating factor.”

Burchett, who runs his own fishing charter business in Sooke as his day job, is on call up to six days a week, which is what’s expected from volunteers who sign up. That means 12 hours of being on call, or six to six, night or day.

Sounds tough, but then again, RCM-SAR isn’t for everyone, either.

“It takes a lot of time to train and be on call,” Burchett said.

RCM-SAR crews train every Wednesday night at its Sooke headquarters, located at the government docks.

There’s also the chance to work with some unique people from various professional backgrounds as well, such as fellow crew member Amber Frame, who serves in the Royal Canadian Navy.

“I liked being on the water, and I like the idea of helping people … it’s the reason why I joined the navy,” Frame said, adding that if anyone wants to become an RCM-SAR volunteer but doesn’t know what it’s like, all they have to do is show up.

“I’d tell them to come down and have a look around. Everybody has been super friendly here, very accepting, it doesn’t matter your size or experience.”

Members have a choice (albeit after much training and certification) whether they want to become ship captain, a navigations officer, or part of the deck crew, the ones who pluck people out of the water.

It’s not just a couple of boats floating around looking pretty, either, as RCM-SAR serves as an auxiliary service with the Canadian Coast Guard, said Clay Evans, superintendent for marine search and rescue with the Canadian Coast Guard.

“From a Coast Guard perspective, we have a relationship that goes back more than 40 years,” he said. “It’s an important part of the federal search and rescue system. They have more than 40 stations on the coast, and we have remote stations and stations where we don’t have primary search and rescue resources.”

As for becoming part this marine rescue community, all it takes is some passion and desire to help.

“You have to want be a part of your community, you have to want to give back, because there’s no paycheque, just hard work and dedication,” Burchett said.

“At the end of the day, I like keeping the waters in my community safe.”