Seeing those red wetsuits going out to sea whetted the appetite of a young Junré Marais to become a West Coast NSRI volunteer in Yzerfontein.
Today, the 25-year-old final year Masters student in Plant Pathology at Stellenbosch University, can also be seen in the red rescue kit of the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) on the Cape West Coast.
Marais volunteers as a training officer and trainee coxswain at NSRI Station 34 at Yzerfontein, about an hour’s drive North of Cape Town.
“I always saw the people in their red wetsuits going out to sea while I grew up but I never knew what they did,” he said.
“As I got older, I started to investigate what Sea Rescue is and what they do. Seeing that their motto is saving lives in South African waters, I decided to join and see what I can do to help others.”
Marais said his local NSRI station had an open day in late 2015 and he decided to visit to learn more and to hear from them. Soon thereafter he went for a medical and “that was the day I signed up to join”.
“As training officer, I am responsible for putting together a training programme for our station for the year,” he said. “Therefore, I need to plan training exercises for every second weekend and make sure that we get through all the modules and have trainee crew qualified as crew to go on callouts.”
As a trainee coxswain he is working towards qualifying to become a coxswain, the person that is in charge of the rescue vessel whenever it is out at sea.
“When we are not training, we are on standby 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Marais has racked up approximately 1,400 hours of volunteering time to date.
He hopes to finish his Masters degree by the end of this year and then start a career in the agricultural field, but “will remain a volunteer with Sea Rescue once I start with the adult life of working”.
Helping other people and the opportunity to learn new things is what makes volunteering for the NSRI so rewarding. “Not a single day is the same on the water and each callout is a different experience – the challenges associated with rescues and the adrenaline once you receive a callout.”
He recalls a recent unusual challenge, “Not long ago we had a group of French tourists where one had a kite boarding accident. They understood very little English and we had to converse using Google translate.”
Volunteering for the NSRI takes up most of his spare time but Marais still manages to also volunteer at parkrun as a co-event director and with his local neighbourhood watch.
“I really enjoy it to be involved with the community and to give back.”
When he is not volunteering, Marais plays club level hockey and is a qualified umpire.
“Despite not being able to participate in sports these past couple of months, NSRI has continued to operate right through the national lockdown as an essential service, and we have been as busy as ever.”
Marais is a firm believer in never being too young to help implement change and said the youth are ready to take their communities forward.
So, what else has the NSRI taught him? “One of the most important things that I have learnt over the past five years is that no matter who you are or what your ‘day’ job title might be, everyone is treated equally at Sea Rescue and you are all on the same level as everyone else.”
“For example, you might be the CEO of a multi-million dollar company, but once you start at Sea Rescue, you are not that CEO … you serve in whatever capacity the organisation needs you and you have to respect that,” he said.
NSRI’s volunteers are the heart of the charity organisation. They offer their personal time (hundreds of hours) and are on standby day and night throughout the year to ensure water safety is maintained and people in distress are rescued.
*NSRI operates both on coastal and inland waters, assisting those in need whether they are working or performing in water sports and fishing.