After a double fatality off Pinnaroo Point in the early 1970’s, a group of concerned “boaties”, which included Ron Upton, Ken Blackie and Lance Gutteridge, formed an informal group to be available and “lookout’ for other Boaties using the waters of the Whitfords beach area.

Yacht in rough seas

They operated off the beach at Pinnaroo Point. In the early days the boats were between 4 to 5.5 meters in length, launching their boats over the sand and often high weed banks, with the help of an old tractor and lots of muscle power! After a number of years of operation the volunteer group decided that the time was right to formalize their operation.

Ron Upton, got together with his mate Lance Gutteridge and the two of them prepared a proposal to set up the “Sea Search and Rescue Group”, with the aim of assembling a group of people who could be ready at short notice to go to the aid of people in difficulty at sea. 

They arranged a public meeting at the old Sorrento Beach Hall to present their proposal. The WA Police, SAS, the local Surf Life Saving group, the Shire and members of the public, attended the meeting. The proposal was unanimously accepted and passed by the people at the meeting that evening, and so the Whitfords Volunteer Sea Rescue Group was formed.

Ron was soon the proud Commander of a flotilla of 5 boats. Under Ron’s command the new members trained and prepared their boats to be in an ever-ready state to respond to a “call for help”.

A “log-on” box was set up on the beach for sea goers to record their departure time, number of people on boat, direction in which they were going and estimated time of return. Remember, this is in the pre-radio days so this facility was all-important. 

By this time Henry Hall and John Stacey had joined the group. . Lance Gutteridge retired down to the Margaret River area. Ron, retired from active duties in the mid 1990’s, however still regularly attends meetings as a Life Member of the group.

The boats in the new Squad were soon organized into three color coded groups, the Red Squad were the trainee groups, the Gold Squad the more senior experienced members who handled the in-shore rescue work and “The Green Squad”, manned by the experienced senior Skippers, handled the major rescues.

After some dedicated fund raising the group acquired a caravan, which became their proud “Mobile Head Quarters”. Prior to the advent of radios, communications were conducted using the time-honored method of signaling with flags. 

Following the acquisition of their formal Head Quarters, Ron identified the need for radio communications and after long hours of negotiation with the government and authorities, pioneered the first “Marine Radios” in Western Australia. In those days the group was only allowed 1-watt Hand Held radios for the boats. The group set up a radio mast at their Base at Pinnaroo Point as their Command Center.

It was not that much longer when bigger radios were needed and were quickly acquired by the Group. Formal base stations were soon set up with the old “Ponie” radios and were soon operating from the homes of DJ and Don Baum, and Laurie and Lillian Robinson. On the weekends radio traffic was monitored from the new expanded Head Quarters, a new acquisition in the form of an old converted bus, on the beach at Pinnaroo Point.

Although the base stations were initially granted for the Group’s own use, it quickly expanded to the current full monitoring service it now gives to the public, supplying 24 hour, 7-day-a-week radio monitoring and call-out service.

After the construction of the Ocean reef Marina, Incorporation of the Group took place in May 1977 and the group acquired, from the Water Corporation, and old shed and water tower. The tower was quickly erected on a very high stand, which gave a panoramic view of the ocean, but certainly was not for the faint-hearted! The water tower was converted into the main look-out and radio base station, where many hours were spent on weekends by the volunteers, fortunately by sea fairing volunteers, as the sway of the tower would have made the toughest fairly sea sick.

Aside from running the base station, the members rapidly determined the need for a suitable launching ramp at Ocean Reef, so construction started on a concrete ramp with all the volunteers carting concrete in trailers and wheel barrows, putting in many hours of back breaking work. Unfortunately this effort was only enjoyed for a few weeks, before Cyclone Alby came through and washed it away. 

After that, mesh and rubber tracks were tried; however, these just disappeared into the sand. In time, the Shire of Wanneroo was able to fund the building of the excellent launching facilities we enjoy today, complete with a separate parking area and jetty for the Group’s use.

In 1980 the Whitfords Sea Sports Club was built at Ocean Reef and the Control Room for the Yacht Club, at the front of the building, was offered to the group for the Group’s radio operations and monitoring duties.

During this time the Group continued to expand its operations, extending its services to the public with boat handling and safety, navigation and training in radio operations. These courses continued to be run on a regular basis for the public and are always very highly regarded. 

The Group has a number of fully accredited Yachting Association Instructors to aid in this training. As the group and the Sea Sport Club grew it became apparent that the Whitfords Volunteer Sea Rescue Group needed its own home.

After many raffles and various other fund-raising activities, including beach parties, auctions and some donations, the volunteer group was finally able to gather together enough money to start on its new Training and Operations Center. Land had been granted to the Group by the City of Wanneroo in the form of a peppercorn lease and building commenced in late 1987. 

With the help of the volunteer members through Ken’s many “Busy Bees”, donations of materials and equipment by private sponsors and a lot of fund-raising the building finally reached completion. The Groups Head Quarters now stand as a tribute to those dedicated volunteers of the early days.

The need soon arose for a dedicated group boat. With a lot more fund-raising functions the volunteers of the group sent Ron on a mission to find a boat. Ron with his team comprising of Ken Blackie, Henry Hall and John Stacey set of for Fremantle to find a suitable boat. The team soon returned with a recommendation to purchase a 28 foot Chivers Tango, named “Thunderbird” as the first official dedicated “Green 1”. To this day the main dedicated boat is named Green 1 and the Squad group owned Rescue Boats are known as the“Green Squad”.

It is interesting to note that the Group in the early days had a full search for a missing boat once or twice a month, now it is more like once or twice a year for a proper full scale search, as opposed to a RAC type tow-ins due to engine failures and various other difficulties experienced by the boating public. This of course is due to the proliferation of radios on many boats today, making the job of locating disabled boats so much easier. 

The other factor is possibly through the efforts made by Whitfords and many of the other groups who are able to provide boating and sea safety courses for the public, to further their safety and awareness of the dangers of venturing out to sea unprepared.

The groups 3 dedicated rescue vessels stand at the ready to provide assistance whenever “the call for help” comes through, at any time day or night 365 day a year. 

The Group is very proud that this fleet, together with its team of in excess of 100 active Volunteers, is one of the largest Volunteer Sea Rescue operation in Western Australia.

The Group has every reason to be proud of its achievements, both in its service to the public and the prompt and efficient manner in which it responds to “the call for help” at any time in any conditions. This is of course, as a result of years of fine-tuning and continuous training programs for all the members and sound local knowledge of the waters in which they operate.

The group has its base at its Operations and Training Center at Ocean Reef where, together with its  home base operators, a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week radio coverage and search and rescue service is provided for those in need.

After many years of operation, Group members can look back with pride on their dedication and service to the ever-growing numbers of boaties who use the waterways off our coastline.