They are called into some of the country’s harshest conditions to save strangers’ lives while putting their own at risk hundreds of times per year — yet few Canadians know they exist.
The Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary is a not-for-profit organization and federally registered charity; its 4,200 members provide critical support to some of the most dangerous maritime search and rescue operations.
Every year, these volunteers respond to an average of 2,000 incidents and are on call year-round, 24 hours a day. Sometimes, they are the sole responders to people in distress.
There are countless volunteers across Canada who are worthy of praise during National Volunteer Week, but as chair and co-chair of the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans we felt it was important to call attention to auxiliary members as their work often goes unnoticed or underappreciated.
The auxiliary has been around for more than 40 years. Without it, the Canadian Coast Guard would be significantly depleted — auxiliary members make up 25% of search and rescue missions every year.
These volunteers really do save lives.
On February 8, 2019 in Squamish, B.C., a fierce windstorm producing 90 km/h gusts hammered a 27-foot sailboat with two men on board. One of the men, Evan, wrote about what happened in a blog post titled “The night we almost died,” which described how a fire broke out in the stairwell to the lower deck as 10-foot waves rocked the Dulcinea back and forth.
In Evan’s own words: “For those of you who have never yelled ‘MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!’ into a radio that is so slick with your blood you struggle to push down the talk button. I really, really hope you will never have the chance!”
Evan fired four flares into the sky to get the coast guard’s attention. Responding search and rescue personnel instructed him over radio to steer the boat to safety, where it was towed.
After suffering frostbite in their fingers and toes from the frightening ordeal, Evan expressed his gratitude to the volunteer search and rescue crews for saving them: “I thank every member of the coast guard team that rescued us profusely! WE ARE VERY LUCKY TO BE ALIVE!”
We had the opportunity to meet with auxiliary members during fact-finding missions last year in places like Kuujjuaq, Que. and Victoria, B.C.
Throughout the study, we were repeatedly told that these men and women really are the best of the best, and that they are putting the safety and well-being of others before their own.
Sadly, the auxiliary’s work is hindered by a lack of adequate funding from the federal government and their membership has not kept pace with the increased number of rescue calls. Funding from the Canadian Coast Guard does not take inflation into account and, because of insufficient funding, some members are not being trained according to national standards.
That’s why in our report titled When Every Minute Counts — Maritime Search and Rescue the committee recommended that the federal government increase funding for the auxiliary and establish a Maritime Search and Rescue Fund so regional auxiliary members can purchase new equipment to help them do their jobs.
The theme for National Volunteer Week this year is “The Volunteer Factor — Lifting Communities.” We firmly believe that wherever they are, auxiliary members make coastal communities safer.
We thank you for your commitment.
Senator Fabian Manning is chair of the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. He represents Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Marc Gold is the deputy chair of the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. He represents the Stadacona division of Quebec.
This article was published in the April 11, 2019, edition of The Telegram.