More than 'messing about with boats'
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Alex Fowler has been 'messing about with boats' since he was eight years old.
After many years of sailing and power boating, Alex decided to join the Paynesville Rescue Squad 'with the idea of putting something back into boating'.
He and his wife had moved full time to the area after Alex retired from banking in 1995.
So in 1997, he walked into a meeting of the Paynesville Rescue Squad – and walked out as Treasurer.
When the rescue squad became affiliated with the Coast Guard in 2005, he was local Flotilla Commander for four years.
He stepped down as Squadron Commodore of Gippsland last year and currently manages the Gippsland Associate Membership program – or as he calls it, 'RACV on the water'.
He's attended lots of search and rescues in his time. 'We go to people falling off boats, boats running aground, boats sinking.'
'We work closely with the water police. The CFA use us for transport when they need to get to fires via the water. We help the SES when they do ground searches near water.'
But Alex's involvement with the Coast Guard has been about more than just call outs. He's also enjoyed running training courses.
'Seeing members do my courses and progress – that's very satisfying,' he says.
He devised a navigation course, where the trainees had to navigate, take navigation points – 'do all the technical stuff' – and report back.
'Most of them now work for the Coast Guard around the coast here and haven't got lost – so I guess I can claim some credit for that,' he laughs.
His good humour belies some of the realities of job.
'The Coast Guard goes out when everyone's coming in,' he says.
'There's been a couple of times when I've wondered if the boat would come out the other end … it comes down to knowing your own capabilities and the capability of your equipment.'
Jean-Francois (JF) Barallon from Langwarrin is just starting out with the Coast Guard.
Like Alex, he's been around the water his whole life. 'Boating is in my blood,' he says.
He used to drive past the Coast Guard building on his way to launch his boat from Patterson River and think that he'd join up one day.
He did that in May last year and hasn't looked back. Currently he's working through his qualifications and ultimately wants to be a Coast Guard skipper.
He says he's already made friends for life from his Monday night training group.
'The missus reckons I come back from Monday night classes a different person – I'm all mellow and happy,' JF laughs.
He says one of the best things about being with the Coast Guard is the thanks you get when you've assisted someone. 'You get a really nice feeling when someone thanks you for getting them out of trouble.'
The Volunteer Coast Guard aims to promote safety in the operation of small craft. It supports the community and the Victorian coast through education, example, examination, and through search and rescue. For more information on the Coast Guard, visit coastguard.com.au