POCOMAR: Serving the community on the water

POCOMAR vessel P2, ‘Ted Cook’ crashes through the waves on Lake Erie during last week’s training. The crews train to encounter situations in all kinds of weather and water conditions.

If you’ve never been in distress on the water, you may have never heard of POCOMAR.

But for those who have needed their assistance, whether it’s because their boat ran aground or became disabled, they quickly learn what the unit is all about.

POCOMAR – Port Colborne Marine Auxilliary Rescue – is an all-volunteer, non-profit marine search and rescue unit operating on eastern Lake Erie covering from the Grand River in Dunnville to the Niagara River, to the border of the U.S., 220 square miles in total. The Port Colborne-based unit was founded in 1988 by a group of local boaters.

“It’s one of the busiest units in the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary’s Central and Arctic Region, which covers four provinces and two territories,” said unit commander Norm Dashwood.

And, he added, it keeps seeing a rise in statistics.

“We had 46 taskings last year,” Dashwood said. “Six lives were (directly) saved through our actions.When you are called out, you never know what you are getting into until you arrive,” he said.

“We have been called out for drownings, either off the beach or from a boat; broken down vessels; vessels that are overdue; people falling off Sea-Doos; sometimes people see a boat that looks adrift, so they call it in. You name it, if it can go wrong on the water, we get called in for it.”

“So far, we have had 16 taskings this year,” he said. “Usually the bulk of the taskings come in August or early September, so, we are on par with the numbers we had last year.”

Patrolling the shoreline around Port Colborne last Wednesday. POCOMAR area of coverage ranges from the Grand River in Dunnville to the Niagara River, to the border of the U.S., 220 square miles in total.

The need is constant during boating season.

As the POCOMAR crew headed out for training last week, members pointed out things that can sometimes lead to a problem.

“There’s a boat with a power line hanging in the water,” one crew member said as their vessel, P1, left the dock. Dashwood called

Another pointed out that there were two people riding around on a jet-ski in open water with only one life preserver.

“It’s really simple, the basics,” Dashwood said. “Transport Canada puts out guidelines of the basic safety equipment you have to have on your vessels.”

“So, if you are on a boat or a jet-ski, the guidelines are there for you. You need to have that safety equipment, a life jacket for every person, having flares, having lines, having the proper safety equipment is very important,” he said.

“Outside of that, knowing the area you are going to, knowing the depths you are going to so you don’t damage your boat,” he said. “You also need to know where the riptides and rip currents are if you are swimming. At one beach locally we often get people swimming out too far and can’t get back in.”

“Knowing your area, have all your safety equipment and be responsible,” he said. “For example the drinking and boating doesn’t mix cliché, well, it doesn’t mix. We get called out often for people who have just made decisions that are not in their best interest.”

“We aren’t enforcement, we’re there to bring them back safely,” he said. “Sometimes my guys put themselves at risk to bring someone back safely and all they get out of it is knowing they helped bring back someone safely.”

Throughout POCOMAR volunteers that’s one thing that is common to all of them. A sense of volunteering, of helping others out in need.

Dillon Dempsey of St. Catharines joined the POCOMAR crew when he was just 16 years old, then a junior member. Now a regular member as he is now 19.

“While I do love being out on the water, the thrill of riding the waves, helping people is something I love the most,” he said. “I have always felt the need to help people, it’s very important to me.”

For Amber Dashwood, it was her husband, Norm, who presented her with this fulfilling opportunity.

She has been a POCOMAR member for two years, working on her third year.
“I was familiar with it through Norm before I joined, but, I had no interest in it at the time,” she said. “Then Norm invited me to come out and be on the boat, see what they do, and that was the hook. As it turns out, it was very much of interest to me.”

What drew her, well, Norm interjected, “Well, 17,000 lbs of boat, maneuvering with twin 300 plus HP twin turbo diesels might have something to do with it.”

“It’s a very fun and very responsive boat to play with,” Amber added. “It is great to get out on the water, but, also, from a camaraderie perspective, the people in the unit are great to get along with. We work hard together and we enjoy each other’s company.”

“But, in all seriousness, I have always volunteered in different ways, this has turned into my favourite way to volunteer my time,” she said. “As boaters ourselves, knowing that we are bringing value to people like us is very important to me.”

Dorothy and Frank Yapp have been with the unit for 17 seasons.

“He heard about it, and he loves to be on the water,” Dorothy said. “I figured if I ever wanted to see him I should get involved, too.”

“Then we got my daughter and son-in-law involved for awhile, it was a family affair,” she said.

But what hooked her is the importance of the work.

“We’re rescuing people, we’re helping people,” Dorothy said. “This is so very important to me.”

“It means everything to me,” Frank said.

Over the years, they’ve each seen their share of some very serious calls.

“However, it is very rewarding,” Frank said. “You don’t want to see the death, stuff like that, but, when you help someone live, that’s important.”

POCOMAR members practise recovering a marine casulty in the water during training last week.

“If people would be a little bit safer, we wouldn’t need to do this stuff,” he said. “If I had one message for people after all I have seen, more safety equipment and more training on how to use it properly.”

With the boating season fully underway, POCOMAR crews work hard on their on-water training.

This could include rigging vessels for a tow, to man overboard drills.

“We are training hard right now, reviewing our drills to face some of the emergencies we may encounter out there,” Amber said.

As they continue to work hard training to meet the next demand, the crew remembers their underlying motivation, helping out in the community.

POCOMAR is a volunteer not-for-profit organization that survives through fundraising efforts. They are currently running an elimination draw for cash prizes. Donations towards the unit are also appreciated.

They are also looking for new members. They recently held an information night for prospective members, however, anyone who wishes to volunteer can contact the unit anytime.

Follow these links for more information about POCOMAR, FacebookTwitter and Instagram. They also have a YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChgxmHoL1xCUoz2hZ0Bx-NA.

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