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A Love For The Ocean And A Desire To Help People, The Perfect Recipe To Become A NSRI Volunteer

Amy Forster, 20, rescue crew member at NSRI Station 3, Table Bay

By Sarah Anderson

Young South Africans should be active in their communities

A desire to help people and a great love for the ocean has seen 20-year-old Amy Forster of Lakeside become a volunteer rescuer with the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).

“One of the things I love about the NSRI is how inclusive it is and how it caters to all ages,” said Forster who is a crew member at NSRI Station 3 in Table Bay. “There are aspects that everyone can get involved in, whether you love the water and getting that adrenaline rush, or if you prefer to feel a bit more grounded on a bigger boat.

As an organisation, Sea Rescue are not only looking for volunteers to go to sea, but also need volunteers who are willing and able to contribute in a range of different ways.

“There are even things to do that don’t involve going near the ocean such as driving the rescue vehicle or managing the radios at the base. There is something for everyone.”

Forster, who has plans on being a Grade 3 teacher, is a firm believer that the youth of South Africa should be active within their communities, “which is why I love being a volunteer and helping others”.

“As young South Africans, we are the future and have the opportunity to be the change,” she said. “I hope to inspire more young people to get involved in their communities and to help others and that is why I love being a volunteer for the NSRI.”

The NSRI, formed in 1967, is a non-profit organisation staffed by volunteers who are on standby day and night throughout the year to ensure water safety is maintained and people in distress are rescued on both coastal and inland waters.

She said her main focus is on becoming a rescue swimmer and a class three coxswain, which would allow her to be at the helm of a nine-metre or smaller size vessel.

In her three “happy” years with the NSRI, Forster has accumulated over 150 volunteer hours.

She was first introduced to the NSRI in 2016, aged 16. “At the time, I was looking for something that would combine my love for the ocean with my desire to help people.

“Firefighting was another option because I have several family members involved with that department, but my love for the ocean came up tops and that’s why Sea Rescue was the perfect fit.”

Her crew typically trains on the Saturday of their duty week to keep on top of fitness and to make sure the crew are competent when it comes to performing all the necessary tasks needed for rescues.

“This is my favourite part of Sea Rescue because we start our morning off with a crew breakfast at 8h00 and then we do boat and vehicle checks and typically launch around 10h00 for a solid training session.” 

Forster also needs to keep her knowledge up to date through the use of the NSRI’s online training platform, while she also regularly practices the tying of knots, and keeps up a high level of fitness.

The sense of family engendered by the NSRI is one of the attractions of the volunteer service. “Just knowing that no matter what, my crew has my back and I have theirs”.

Being out on the ocean and “getting to see all of the amazing wildlife that lives in our bay” is just the crowning glory. 

Margaretha Burger, 22, lifeguard unit captain at NSRI Station 37, Jeffreys Bay


It is important for our youth to be open to change, but mostly importantly to learn from those who has come before us

Final year BSc (Biology) student at Nelson Mandela University (NMU), Margaretha Burger, has set her sights on completing a PhD in biological oceanography – so what better place to serve than on the frontlines with the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI). 

Burger is the lifeguard unit captain at NSRI Station 37 in Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape.

“I make sure all volunteer duties are performed by each member and that they are eligible to re-test each year,” she said. “I also make sure all the paperwork is in order for new trainees to become fully fledged lifeguards.”

Burger is also a class 4 coxswain, which allows her to helm class 4 boats – rescue vessels with a single motor and no navigational lights – during a rescue. While she was a class 3 trainee coxswain, she was allowed to commandeer vessels up to nine metres in length.

Burger became a volunteer for NSRI in February 2015.

“When I came back from a month in Germany as an exchange student, I wanted to do something new,” she said of her beginnings with the 53-year-old non-profit organisation, which is dedicated to saving lives on both South African coastal and inland waters.

“I was always interested in the ocean and emergency services. I Googled Sea Rescue and found out that there is a base in my own town,” she said. “I emailed the station commander and he invited me to join their training that Sunday. Like they say, the rest is history.”

She added: “One of my favourite things is being able to spend as much time as I do in the ocean, but truly, I love being part of a team helping others in need.”

Being Youth Month, Burger said: “The youth are the future of South Africa, and it is therefore important that we are open to change, and to learn from those who has come before us. This way, we can keep making the NSRI and South Africa a wonderful place to live and learn.”

The NSRI has continued to operate as an essential service during the Covid-19 lockdown, rescuing, and supporting where needed.

Shawn Thomson, 18, volunteer at NSRI Station 15, Mossel Bay


Young Mossel Bay rescue ‘divemaster’ loves training people

With Father’s Day come and gone, 18-year-old Shawn Thomson from Mossel Bay is thankful for the influence his dad had on him growing up – even if at the time it seemed like he was just being dragged along.

Despite his tender years and only recently having left school, Thomson is volunteer at the National Sea Rescue Institute’s (NSRI) Station 15 on the Cape south coast, where he a trainee class 4 coxswain.

He has officially been at the NSRI station as a member for three years but unofficially he is into double figures of time spent in and around the base. All thanks to his father, Michael Thomson.

“I learnt about the NSRI through my father who has been at our recue base for 10 years now,” Thomson said. “My brother, Tristin Thomson, 21, and I were dragged with my father to all the different events and training and came to develop a passion for the sea and the NSRI. So, when my brother and I turned the correct age we joined and have never looked back.”

“My day job includes training people on how to dive or on boating, while being ever ready to respond to an emergency call-out at any time if my crew is on duty”.

Thomson is training to be a class 4 coxswain, which means he is working towards eventually becoming qualified to be in sole command of the station’s surf rescue boat, “which as you can imagine comes with a few extra responsibilities”.

Thomson is also part of the Mossel Bay station’s junior management programme, which seeks to help the younger crew develop their leadership and managements skills.

The NSRI is a non-profit organisation staffed by volunteers and Thomson – like most volunteers at both coastal and inland rescue stations – have racked up hundreds of volunteer hours. In particular, Thomson has clocked up over 300 hours of volunteering service to the station, since formally becoming a member.

Thomson, who works as a trainer at a diving and skipper’s school, describes volunteering at the NSRI as “amazing”.

“I love seeing the people after entering the water for the first time and taking their first breath under water. It changes a person,” he said. “Then the feeling of floating effortless and weightless in the water. It feels like the weight of the world has been lifted off your shoulders.”

Thomson admits his love for the NSRI organisation means he would love to one day perhaps have a job as a training officer at the head office.

“I have developed such a passion for this organisation, I would love to help it develop further and be part of its growth and impact in helping people,” he added. “I love training people and I have a passion for the ocean so I don’t think I can find a better combination.”

At present Thomson is studying and working towards becoming a NSRI course dive director in a ‘train the trainer’ programme. 

When asked to comment on the youth of South Africa, Thomson believes, “the youth of today is highly underestimated and has a lot of potential. My generation, with time, will change the world and make it a better place.”

“Our youth are the key to developing this organisation into something great.” 

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