Coastguard Marlborough is an organization of volunteers who give of their time to train and respond to pager callouts in order to assist others when they get into difficulty in or around the Marlborough Sounds and Cook Strait. The organization as such has had a low profile, but the public expectation is a “professional organization” that it is there when needed. This has not always been the case and the current organization has evolved from a group of Marlborough Sounds residents into the well co-ordinated operation it is today.
In the early 1980’s any Police or other emergency in the Sounds required access by commercial launch, floatplane or with the co-operation of DOC, MAP or Marlborough Harbour Board as these three organizations owned launches. Boats and crew were also provided by Sounds residents, such as the Fishbums in Dryden Bay, Heberleys at Okukari, Guards from Port Underwood, Fords from Bulwer and Ashtons from d’Urville Island. From the mid 70’s until the early 90’s, the Baker family of Cape Jackson, via Cape Jackson Radio/Marlborough Marine Radio, often co-ordinated these rescues. In 1987 the Harbour Board, DOC and MAF sold their boats which made it very difficult to respond to calls requiring emergency services.
In 1990, the “Sounds Emergency Services Coordinating Committee” was set up with representatives from Marlborough Civil Defence, The Interislander Line, NZ Police, Marlborough Ambulance Service, Port Marlborough, NZ Fire Service, DOC and Dept of Agriculture and Fisheries. This committee immediately set about raising funds for a rescue boat and on 22nd December 1990 a 6.8 Naiad, christened “Te Ara Hou” later to be renamed “Tranz Rail Rescue”, was launched, by Doug Kidd MP, from the point where Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferries now berth. On the eve of the launching, unfortunately, one of the Naiad bags deflated and there were no spares immediately available, so a bag was “borrowed” from Lyttleton and relayed up the country by the Christchurch, Kaikoura and Picton Police to be fitted by some tired volunteers.
Painted white with blue Police style chevrons along the side and with a set of red/blue flashing lights, “Tranz Rail Rescue” appeared as a Marine Police unit. A sign on the front could be changed to read Police, Fire, Ambulance or MAF. The boat was originally kept on a trailer at the rear of the Police Station before Port Marlborough granted the use of shed A6 at the town marina which also became HQ for the Unit. In those early days as well as being used as an emergency vessel, “Tranz Rail Rescue” was used by Fisheries patrols mainly on PR and education exercises, as well as occasionally by the Customs Department. In 1991 the service became a member of “Royal New Zealand Coastguard Federation.”
By 1995, funding of “Tranz Rail Rescue” and training of crew was becoming a problem. It was then decided to wind up the “Sounds Emergency Services” and pass all the assets to the newly formed Marlborough Volunteer Coastguard. Mid 1995, the unit took delivery of its current boat, an open 12.6 metre Naiad which New Zealand Rail had sponsored as a chase boat for Team New Zealand at the America’s Cup in Seattle and donated by the Interisland Line to Marlborough Volunteer Coastguard after that event. Interestingly, this was the boat that was one of the first on the scene when the Australian yacht broke in two and sank in short time. A foretaste of its future role? After a major refit to make it suitable for the variety of roles it had to play in the Sounds and Cook Strait ranging from Search and Rescue, Medical Evacuations, Police and Fire Transport, “Tranz Rail Rescue” was commissioned and ready for sea late 1995.