Two fisherman whose boat sank offshore from Bermagui on Thursday afternoon have thanked the "awesome" rescue teams who rushed to save them as they clung to the hull of their upturned runabout.
Skipper Lindsay McGown also had a safety message for other boaters, urging them to wear lifejackets and know how to use their marine radios, rather than taking a 'she'll be right' approach to their safety on the water.
Mr McGown and Daren Bayldon met the Marine Rescue Bermagui radio operators who responded to their calls for help and two members of the unit's rescue vessel crew who were activated as Mr McGown's boat sank off Beares Beach, south of Bermagui Harbour, about 12.20pm on Thursday.
Mr McGown thanked the Marine Rescue NSW volunteers, Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter and Surf Life Saving crews who came to their rescue.
"Thank you so much to everyone. They're all awesome. It was amazing that they responded so quickly to find us," he said.
He described the relief when he and his mate, both visiting from rural Victoria, saw the rescue teams approaching: "We were smiling and laughing then. We knew people cared."
He said the pair, aged 69 and 54, had been shaken up but were 'thrilled' to be back on dry land.
"The alternative's not very nice. The boat doesn't matter. You can get a new one of them but you can't get another body. We're alive, that's the only thing that matters," he said.
Mr McGown called for help on his VHF marine radio after his Haines Hunter cuddy cabin began taking on water before being swamped by a wave and starting to sink while the pair were drift fishing off the beach.
His calls were transmitted via new VHF marine radio technology installed by MRNSW on the Bermagui reservoir and Dr George Mountain in recent weeks to eliminate a blackspot in VHF reception on that area of the coastline. He was answered by radio operator Greg Jones at the MR Bermagui radio base.
Rescue vessels from MR Narooma and Bermagui, a Surf Life Saving RIB and the Westpac rescue helicopter were swiftly deployed. As the helicopter stood by overhead, the Surf and MRNSW vessels arrived on scene and the two men were rescued and transferred back to shore on board Narooma 30.
Mr McGown said it was important for boaters to know how to use their radios in case they found themselves in similar trouble.
"I think people are unsure of them. It's a bit like us, I suppose. We have this 'she'll be right' attitude. It's the Aussie way but it's not really the right way at all," he said.
Mr McGown credited the pair's lifejackets with saving their lives as the boat sank beneath them.
"It gives you the confidence to know you can float. It really is amazing. It takes the pressure off you because you know you're not going to drown," he said.
"People should wear them. Especially now with the new blow-up ones. They don't feel bulky on your body like the old ones that used to go over your head. You can bait and catch fish with them on. I'm really impressed with them. They probably saved our lives."
While the pair was carrying an EPIRB on board, it was under a shelf and under water within an instant, prompting the boaters to encourage others to keep their EPIRB close at hand in case of an emergency and to consider personal locator beacons.
Rescue vessel Bermagui 30 later took the runabout under tow back to the Bermagui boat ramp, where Mr McGown and Mr Bayldon managed to retrieve it today.
MRNSW Deputy Commissioner Dean Storey praised all the rescue personnel involved for their rapid coordinated response to return the two men safely back to shore.
"These rescue teams ensured these two men are alive to spend Christmas with their families and friends," he said.
"This operation is the clearest demonstration of the value of our joint training, such as last weekend's major Search and Rescue Exercise at Batemans Bay that saw more than 100 specialist personnel, including team members involved yesterday, working together to hone their response to emergencies."
Deputy Commissioner Storey said the rescue also highlighted the value of MRNSW's capital investment in upgrading the VHF marine radio network on the South Coast to eliminate blackspots and improve VHF radio reception.
"This new VHF technology ensured that when Mr McGown called for help, our radio operators heard and could ensure help was on the way as rapidly as possible," he said.
Deputy Commissioner Storey thanked MR Bermagui radio operators Greg Jones (who then joined the rescue crew), Steve Knight and Lynda Bailey, the crew of rescue vessel Narooma 30, Ross Constable, Shannon Greene, Paul Bourke and Megan Fraser and the crew of Bermagui 30, Denise Page, Babs Stephens, Greg Jones and Steven Angelo.
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