Our guardians on the water

Living Well | Words: Gary Tippet | Photos: Shannon Morris | Posted on 16 October 2017

From kayakers to yachties, Victorians are drawn to the water, and the Coast Guard is there to help if they get in trouble.

Deanne Semmens with fellow volunteers Ben Dawson, Richard Elstone and Simon Gribble.

On an awful Friday in July, Deanne Semmens received a message on her pager: a Torquay baker called Junichi Yoshimura had gone missing while fishing from his kayak on Port Phillip.

Deanne jumped into her car at Upper Ferntree Gully and 30 minutes later was at the Patterson River at Carrum. With the rest of her Australian Volunteer Coast Guard search and rescue crew, she launched their twin-engined Stabicraft and headed into the dark and what she describes as “horrendous conditions”.

“The water was freezing, we had winds gusting up to 100km/h, we were looking on the Beaufort scale of a seascape of maybe up to 8 on Port Phillip and our boats were just getting thrown around,” she remembers.

Working with the Water Police, a police helicopter and other Coast Guard and marine volunteers, the Carrum crew, working in relays, maintained search patterns for the rest of that wild weekend. Mr Yoshimura’s yellow kayak was found on the Monday but his body was never recovered.

“That always makes me terribly sad,” says Deanne. “Whatever happens, you want to be able to give them back to their families.”

Whim and a pier

Deanne has been with the Coast Guard for 10 years, joining almost on a whim after seeing a Coast Guard vessel while fishing from the pier at Frankston with her husband Matthew.

She had fished on the Bay with her father and brothers since she was a little girl. “I thought what better way to learn a host of skills and at the same time give something back to the community,” she says. “I told Matthew I was joining and that he was coming with me – and he followed me straight down that rabbit hole.”

Matthew is now AVCG deputy squad commodore for Victoria and, like Deanne, a skipper at Carrum.

The AVCG has flotillas in every state and territory except Western Australia and the ACT. In Victoria its reach is from Mallacoota to Portland and there are flotillas on Western Port and Port Phillip, Lake Hume and Lake Eppalock. VF07 at Carrum is the state’s busiest, with 60 members averaging 120 assists a year.

Being Australians, we’re drawn to the water. It’s such a fabulous place to go.
Deanne Semmens

“We deal with anything from broken-down vessels with fuel or battery problems, and first aid situations,” says Deanne. “It could be someone in the water, it could be a disabled or overturned vessel or a full-on search.

“I think, being Australians, we’re drawn to the water. It’s such a fabulous place to go whether you fish or you swim or you’re an adventurer. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a cruiser or a yacht, or you’re a stand-up paddleboarder or a kayaker. But it can be perilous.”

And one doesn’t have to live beside the water to be a Coast Guarder, she adds.

“I live virtually in the forest during the week and out on the water all weekend. It’s good for the soul. When I go out on the water, I really feel like I’m home.”

RACV and the Coast Guard

RACV Marine is helping the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard continue its life-saving work by supplying batteries for the vessels and tow vehicles of the service’s 19 flotillas.

For more on the Coast Guard and its work, including how you can volunteer, go to coastguard.com.au.