Sunday 3rd July 2011 saw Marine Rescue Units at Brunswick and Ballina respond to overturned vessels on their river bars. Conditions on both bars were less than suitable for safe navigation with a strong ebb tide pushing up against an onshore swell.
The Brunswick incident saw three persons thrown from their 6.5m Bar Crusher as they attempted to negotiate the entrance upon returning from fishing. The skipper, a novice at crossing bar entrances, failed to read the swells correctly resulting in the vessel 'porpoise-ing' (nose-diving off the front of a swell) and overturning. The occupants, all wearing self-inflating lifejackets, together with the vessel, were carried out to sea where initial assistance was provided by board riders and the local Brunswick SLSA who were responded by the operator at Brunswick Marine Rescue Base.
Brunswick rescue vessel BR 20 responded to the incident, picked up one of the survivors - the other two being brought in by Brunswick SLSA - and was able to right the vessel, which had been dragged 800m out to sea, drain the water and safely tow the vessel back into the Brunswick River. Amazingly, the vessel only received an all-over wash and sustained no structural damage.
At Ballina the same day, the Unit was stretched to the limit responding to three call outs within several hours. Whilst towing a stranded cruiser back to its berth in the Richmond River, the Unit received an urgent call to a vessel with two people on board capsizing on the treacherous Richmond River Bar. With Ballina Jet Boat also activated, the people in the water and the vessel were both safely retrieved. The two occupants were transferred to hospital for treatment.
At 1700 MR Ballina was again activated after receiving an urgent call for assistance after a vessel which had sustained a gearbox failure just as it crossed the Richmond River bar. The vessel, which had drifted close to the breakwall, was taken into tow by a passing recreational vessel and safely brought up the river to its mooring.
Both incidents at Ballina and Brunswick demonstrated the value of inter-agency cooperation in responding assets to incidents on the river bars. The effectiveness of the working relationship that has been built up over many years is a credit to both the Marine Rescue NSW and SLSA.
The condition of the Ballina bar has resulted in a flurry of action by NSW Maritime, State Member Don Page and DPI who are set to investigate options for the entrance in terms of leads and dredging. As it stands, the Ballina Richmond River entrance is regarded as highly dangerous and should be avoided by boat operators during periods when the tide is ebbing.
Marine Rescue website