Bruce's gig helps keep boaters safe

Marine Rescue volunteer Bruce Mitchell at the Hill 60 communications centre. Photo: ORLANDO CHIODO
Marine Rescue volunteer Bruce Mitchell at the Hill 60 communications centre. Photo: ORLANDO CHIODO


Bruce Mitchell worked hard to make a living but since retiring 12 years ago he has worked just as hard to save lives at sea.

After running a Top Taste cakes and Big Ben pies franchise for many years, he now encourages everyone who goes out to sea to log in with Marine Rescue with details on where they are going and when they expect to return.

At present, only about 40 per cent do.

When these boaters don't log back in by the designated time, a search is automatically begun.

"We first try to contact them and if we can't do that we let the Water Police know," Mr Mitchell said.

"They will start by doing a search of the boat ramp and if the car is still there they will get us to help go out and look for them.

"If the car is gone they will go to their home and check to make sure they are there."

When Mr Mitchell started volunteering with Marine Rescue he already knew many personnel by the sound of their voices.

As a recreational fisherman, he would always log in before and after every trip.

While he had never had reason to need their help, he was always grateful and had a sense of security in knowing he was not alone.

"You only get one chance out there," he said.

"And there is only a certain amount of time you can survive if something goes wrong.

"I used to be out there every weekend ... until I did my back in and had to give it away.

"Then somebody said to me 'why don't you go and join the coastguard?'

When I came up here (Hill 60) I found myself still talking to people I knew out there fishing."

Mr Mitchell said not every search and rescue operation ended well but there was no better feeling than when lives were saved.

He recalled one incident when a boat overturned off Kiama on a Saturday.

"We found them on Sunday afternoon down off Burrill Lake," he said.

"The boat was upside down but they were still sitting on it. They were lucky it was warm and there were no strong winds or anything like that ... or they would never have made it."

Mr Mitchell said when lives were lost at sea or swimmers went missing at local beaches, Marine Rescue volunteers were there to help recover bodies and help bring closure to loved ones.

Mr Mitchell no longer goes out in rescue boats but said the highly trained crews and radio operators involved in searches were affected deeply by such missions.

These days Mr Mitchell does weekend radio duties.

"I know I have got more out of it than I have put into it and I have learned a hell of a lot that I would never have known," he said.

"I just enjoy doing it."

At present 25 people help keep the Hill 60 operation going 24 hours a day.

"For the people who do night shifts up here on their own they are the ones who should get most credit because when something does happen it is usually bad," he said.