Ingham Volunteer Coast Guard celebrates 50 years of rescues, cyclones and awards

Steve Whipps is used to being awake at all hours.

“Waking up on a windy, rainy night to hear someone’s in trouble there is a bad thing,” he said.

For fishermen who come from afar, the Great Barrier Reef is as abundant as it is perilous.

In the event of a mishap, it is volunteers and retirees like Steve Whipps who answer the call.

They set off from what might arguably be Queensland’s busiest boat launch in the sleepy town of Ingham, where the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard team celebrates its 50th anniversary this weekend.

Mr Whipps says his most memorable rescue was during a cyclone.(Provided: Steve Whipps)

Founded in 1972, the Ingham Search and Rescue Service began by using boats owned by its volunteers.

In four years, the community raised enough money to purchase a dedicated vessel, just in time for the most demanding rescue in the Coast Guard’s 50-year history.

“Sometimes things go wrong and people get in trouble,” Mr Whipps said.

“When they do, they call us and we’ll help.

“The worst would have been when one of our crew had to rescue a broken down yacht near Bramble Reef in the middle of a cyclone.”

Awarded for a brave act

Tropical Cyclone Watorea, a category two and three system, formed off the north Queensland coast in April 1976.

“There was a crew aboard the yacht and they radioed for help,” Mr Whipps said.

“It took a while, of course, in cyclonic conditions, and it’s about 35 kilometers offshore.

After successfully towing the yacht to Dungeness and returning the yacht’s crew safely to shore, the Coast Guard volunteers received a Gold Certificate from the Commodore’s Award for their dedication and service.

No time to hesitate

When the phone rings in the middle of the night, Mr. Whipps says there’s no time to think.

“You go down to the depot and you get the boat ready and you get ready to go out to sea. You get as much information as you can and then you go,” he said.

“You have to be calm and serene.

“It’s sometimes difficult.”

After five decades of saving lives, he said the Coastguard’s message to people remained the same: never hesitate to call for help.

“Whatever the reason, it doesn’t really matter,” Mr Whipps said.

“It’s about making sure we can get them back here, nice and safe, and that’s a good feeling.”

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