Coxswain Jason van der Valk is a volunteer with the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue based out of Sooke. Volunteer David Steeves is on the left.

On call along the west coast 24/7

Volunteers with Royal Canadian Search and Rescue save lives

First responders on the water

Daniel Chauvin

Sooke News Mirror

The Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, or RCM-SAR 37 Sooke, is a humble yet proud organization that exists for one significant purpose: to deploy in our local waters when the going gets rough to comb the seas for stragglers who are in need of assistance. Many people in Sooke are not even aware of their existence. But this 100 per cent volunteer organization goes out in the worst conditions when most boaters are heading in, 365 days a year, on-call 24-7, to assist people on the water, saving lives when needed.

Jason van der Valk, a local photographer and coxswain for the 36’ “Falkins Class” Type II Diesel  jet boat is the kind of calm and rock steady guy you want to be there for you if you happen to be in deep doo doo on the choppy seas. Powering an 870hp boat with a top speed of 39 knots and cruising speed of 30 takes a steady hand.  Along with RCM-SAR’s other coxswain, Rob Roe, the two take control of this beast of a boat with finesse and confidence. Equipped with radar, GPS plotter, radio direction finder, FLIR, first aid kits, oxygen and defibrillator on board, the boat is prepared for a wide variety of emergencies and tight situations.

Out on the water, on a calm sunny day, it skims along the crests of the waves like a rock being skipped by some god of the sea. Awash in adrenaline, a crew of six dash out from Sooke to Race Rocks at incredible speeds, soaking in the salty air and epic views from the safety of the cabin.  The porpoises are blowing beside us, seemingly thrilling in the race, eagles eyeing us from above with their majestic gaze.

This joy ride serves a purpose however: to practise manoeuvres that will be called upon in extreme situations. At full tilt, the boat can come to a sudden stop with a bracing jolt, or turn on a dime with grace. A man overboard exercise is carried out with amazing speed, raising the confidence bar of this crew several notches. This fully re-rightable boat runs with a maximum crew of six and is also capable of holding up to 12 passengers.

Because they are a volunteer and non-profit organization it is incredibly important to find both competent volunteers and sufficient funding to keep the boat afloat.

“Anyone who wants to volunteer will go through an interview process to ensure they understand the time and effort asked of them to be a search and rescue crewmember. Having some water experience is good but not mantadory. RCM-SAR will offer the proper training needed to be a crewmember. All of our crew are trained up to a Transport Canada level,” van der Valk states.

“RCM-SAR 37 Sooke is a not-for-profit organization backed by the Juan de Fuca Marine Rescue Society. They are the financial arm for our RCM-SAR station and fundraise throughout the year as well as apply for the annual BC Gaming Grant. All the money received goes into the rescue station to ensure all boats are safe and crew are properly trained, to purchase safety gear and to maintain our equipment.”

The organization handles approximately one-third of all marine related incidents across B.C. Last year the organization did just over 800 taskings. The station does, on average, about 40 of those calls a year in local waters.

They work closely with the Canadian Coast Guard, US Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Air Force. They also do taskings with our local RCMP, Sooke Fire Rescue and BC Ambulance as well as the Juan de Fuca Ground SAR.

RCM-SAR are the first responders on the waters around Sooke. They handle all types of calls, from vessels taking on water, locating missing boats in the fog to medical emergencies. They provide shore side searches for missing hikers as well.

If you are interested in volunteering, please visit their website: ccga-pacific.org/

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