Take care crossing Ballina bar
THE Richmond River bar is not to be messed with, says the Commander of the Ballina coast guard, Norm Lannoy.
He said the local bar is one of two of the most treacherous on the eastern seaboard.
And that was evident last week with two separate incidents on the bar in consecutive days.
About 6.20am on Wednesday of last week, a fishing charter boat with three people on board capsized.
The skipper, who didn’t want to identify himself, said he was trying to turn around when a wave hit the side of the boat.
The swell on the bar at the time was recorded as between 2-3m.
Then about 6.30am on Thursday of last week, two outrigger canoes were swamped by waves and eight people were rescued from just outside the bar.
The canoeists were inside the bar catching waves during a routine training session – they weren’t trying to cross the bar – when the larger six-man canoe was swamped by a wave, and the smaller four-man canoe came into strife when it went to its aid.
The Ballina Jet Boat Rescue crew, a surf ski rider from the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Life Saving Club and boardriders came to the aid of the people who were in the canoes.
Both incidents happened near low tide, and the volunteers in the coast guard tower raised the alarm both times.
Cmdr Lannoy said boaties had to have patience at the bar, and respect for the ocean.
“But once you’ve committed to go, you’ve got to go and you don’t turn around,” he said.
He said there was a real technique in reading the bar conditions.
“If you’re in any doubt, don’t go,” he said.
He said the winds, waves and swell, and the open nature of the surrounds, meant the conditions on the bar could change in 10 minutes.
And he said an outgoing tide made conditions rougher.
When the incidents occurred last week, the coast guard volunteers in the North Wall tower recommended the bar was not suitable for crossing.
Cmdr Lannoy urges all boaties to take their advice. “If we say it is not recommended, we would prefer if they (skippers) don’t go,” he said.
“If they (skippers) do go and they get turned over in the bar, guess who gets to go? It’s either us (coast guard) or the jet boat.
“It comes back to the skippers – they’re responsible.”
He said 90 per cent of boaties do the right thing, but also said that accidents can happen to the best skippers and crews.
The coast guard’s rescue boat is equipped with two 200hp Honda outboards, and the crews undergo strict training, giving them more knowledge about bar crossings than weekend boaties.
Cmdr Lannoy said boaties must wear life jackets when crossing the bar, they should check in with the coast guard and radios should be left on during a bar crossing.
The coast guard tower is manned from 5am to 5pm daily, and there is a bar web camera which can be viewed on the NSW Maritime website, www.maritime.nsw.gov.au.
Meanwhile, Ports and Waterways Minister Paul McLeay last week announced Operation ‘Blue Water’, a month-long safety campaign throughout February, aimed at improving awareness of the safety requirements for boats on coastal waters.
Mr McLeay said during 2009, there were 30 incidents involving vessels operating offshore.
These included capsizing, collision with a submerged object or another vessel, grounding, sinking and fire or explosion.
Last year, five people died in offshore boating accidents.