Broads emergency team plan

PEOPLE who fall into danger on the Broads could have an improved chance of escaping with their life under proposals to station water rescue volunteers at boatyards, cutting response times.

A blueprint to widen the network of safety officers is being finalised by former coastguard worker Paul Rice, pending discussions with other agencies.

And the vision for future Broads safety coverage - which aims to make the best of local knowledge - will bolster existing coastguard coverage.

For volunteers for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) have stressed that their work will continue after Great Yarmouth’s operational centre at Havenbridge House closes.

As reported, the call centre is to close by June 2013 as part of a nationwide reorganisation of the service.

Mr Rice, county councillor for South Smallburgh, said: “We want a similar call out system to the current coastguard system so people can be paged.

“If something happened on Wroxham Broad there could be people at the yard there who could drop everything and go.

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“There would be a large number of volunteers across the Broads and we see this as another safety angle we could cover.”

He added he has had tentative inquiries from serving paramedics, and thinks if funding can be secured from central government the network could be a success.

It is hoped a base could be established at a central point, and at least one full-time member of staff could be employed alongside volunteers.

Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis added there is a real issue with safety among amateur boaters - with five deaths on the Broads since April last year - and said a broadened safety network would help.

An early stage proposal is to put an emergency number for the service on all boats, and Mr Lewis is seeking a meeting with the Broads Authority to move the vision forward.

The expanded network would add to the good work done by volunteer coastguard teams - of which the region has five, in Winterton, Gorleston, Southwold, Lowestoft and Happisburgh.

Teams have equipment including boats, flotation ropes, stretchers, water pump for sinking boats and generators for night lighting.

And they can call in a rescue helicopter or lifeboat if needed.

Rick Stephenson, sector manager for the MCA, said: “These are the guys with the real local knowledge. They’re local people who have grown up in the area and have fantastic contacts. The local knowledge is sat here, not in the call centre, and we’re not closing down.”

He added the MCA is to recruit for more sector managers when the Yarmouth call centre closes, they are investing in more equipment and volunteers are getting additional training.

Mark Aylen, station officer at the Winterton volunteer team, said: “It’s essential to be familiar with the area - it saves time, especially when someone’s in the water.”

Volunteer Adam Rossiter has fished the Broads for years, and is familiar with the many places surrounded by reed banks that cannot be accessed by road.

“It can be the difference between life and death,” he said.

Gorleston’s coastguard team is seeking five volunteers to increase its numbers ahead of the summer season.

For an information pack write to HM Coastguard, fourth floor, Havenbridge House, North Quay, Yarmouth, Norfolk.

Mr Rice said further detail for his new Broads safety plan will be unveiled next month.