By Ingrid Jacobson
JEFFERY Howe is officially retired but the ocean-loving Yanchep man works more hours in his voluntary job than most people do in paid positions.
Not that he minds as he lives for his ‘work’ with the Volunteer Marine Rescue Association Western Australia and revels in his twin roles of being commander of both the state group and the Two Rocks chapter which also comes under the VMR banner.
Recently, his 29 years of volunteer work was recognised during the Australia Day Honours list ceremony, during which he was awarded an Emergency Services Medal.
The medal acknowledged his contributions and service to fellow citizens during his years spent in marine rescue, many of those operating in dangerous conditions and sad circumstances.
“I love the water and I love the people – those I work with who are good people and we need more of them – and those who we help,” he said.
“My heart and soul goes out to marine rescue.
“There’s been some good stuff, some tragic stuff and some scary stuff along with some very funny incidents that I can’t talk about because the people would know who were involved.
“But at the end of the day the most recognition should go to my family and the families of other volunteers.
“Maybe they wanted to get me out of the house but if it wasn’t for them putting up with my oddball hours and supporting me, none of this would have been possible.”
The self-confessed sea dog, who has “had a dingy since I had a car”, is honoured by the accolade.
But he says there’s a sea of volunteers out there working just as hard as him and he would know.
His approach to his duties has always been with the agenda of recruiting, supporting and retaining volunteers, especially with numbers having been low in recent times.
Before heading the VMR, Mr Howe was the association’s vice commander and the main representative for WA on the National Volunteer Marine Rescue Search and Rescue Committee.
His input into the national approach to regulation and training for VMR groups being developed in consultation with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has also been major.
Prior to retirement, he worked in the marine services division at the Fire and Emergency Services Authority – now known as the Department of Fire and Emergency Services – for 10 years.
During this time he helped introduce the current marine VHF radio repeater network to VMR throughout WA.
Utilising his 30-year background in the telecommunications industry, he was the primary technical advisor for the project.
The system dramatically improved radio communications for Western Australian recreational boaters and most importantly, their safety.
The issue of encouraging more recreational boaters to log onto the network when they head out on the water is a big one.
And an underlying part of that – publicising the need for more recreational boaters to install a VHF radio system rather than “the 27 MHz stuff” really sends this volunteer up on his soapbox.
“Only 15 per cent of boaties log on to the network as it is not mandatory,” he said.
“But if something happens, and things can go wrong even on what seems to be a nice, calm day on the ocean, we have no idea of where to look.
“Call me cautious but if I’m going out there, I want someone to find me if it goes pear-shaped as I’ve done enough searching for people and know how quickly it can all go wrong.”
As for the system boat owners install, Mr Howe reckons that 27 MHz CB radio is not safe enough for true communication.
“The suitability is stuffed up by the current generation of outboards as it’s too noisy and people turn off the radio because of that, and it also doesn’t go well over distances.
“On the bright side, VHF which was always more expensive, has now come down in price but you do need a license to own one which I guess puts people off.”
But it’s apparent this joke-cracking boatie who spent much of his early life working in the bush as a PMG-trained technician is probably one of those people who more than often than not look on the bright side.
It was his time spent working in places such as Jerramungup, Kojonup, Narrogin, the Great Southern, and then Meekatharra that he first became experienced in communications, later landing the job with FESA to help build a VHF network.
His time in the bush also gave him the experience for the volunteer job he and others have recently been doing in the VMR’s road transport division.
Recently introduced new standards for commercial boats have resulted in the association buying a truck specifically fitted out to cart rescue boats from as far afield as Broome, Carnarvon and Geraldton to and from Perth to get overhauls, now mandatory every five years.
In the past week, he’s been up and down to Bunbury in one day hauling a boat and he estimates the association truck bought through fundraising and with help from Lotterywest, would probably do 20,000km a year.
“But it’s all fun.
“If we paid contractors, it would cost between $8-10,000 to truck a boat from Broome which would come out of the group’s operation fund, and therefore there would be less for sea rescue.
“Anyway, we get put up for the night and if there’s no accommodation, we sleep in swag on the side of the road.
“I’m a qualified bush pig, so I may as well put it to good use.”
On his lifelong love of the ocean, Mr Howe believes it could come from a mix of influences, including his family history.
“Apparently my family goes back to whalers and lighthouse keepers.
“But it could also be something to do with my dad knocking around with Percy Tasker, Roly Tasker’s father when I was a kid.”
Like his father, Mr Howe also passed his passion for the sea onto his daughters, Kerry and Lisa who were his “deckies” for most of their childhood until adults.
His wife, Sherryl has also been a part of the crew but with her job as an ambulance officer in Yanchep, it sounds as though her life has been just as busy serving the community as that of her hard-working husband.