The group of 15 volunteers from all walks of life put in long hours and commitment so that they can be ready when the call comes to rescue a boat taking on water in the lake, find missing people, or respond to other marine emergencies.
The group is completely dependent on fundraising.
“We have to try and raise some money to put fuel in the boat and oil and maintain it,” said unit leader Jim Oakley, whose day job is an insurance adjustor.
“Nobody’s paid, we all buy even our own safety gear, PFDs, our floater suits for the winter or for the colder seasons.”
The team resurrected an old 1972 police boat that had been sitting in a field for eight years, had it overhauled, and now operates as if it "pretty well new,” Oakley said.
The organization is heavily dependent on donations, and their website lists a wide variety of local sponsors.
That money has made the operation increasingly sophisticated.
“We’ve been able to add things like a thermal imaging camera which helped us identify, a couple of years ago, nine people who were in the water in the middle of the night and bring them back safely,” Oakley said.
The CGR is essentially the auxiliary to the Canadian Coast Guard and its base in Amherstburg.
It is one of numerous Coast Guard auxiliaries, staffed by volunteers, across Canada.
The organization is dispatched just like any other emergency service, and obviously, based on the geography, can sometimes respond more quickly than the Coast Guard itself.
“We’re all dispatched from JRCC (Joint Rescue Command Centre, Trenton) and they determine who can respond the quickest,” Oakley said.
“It depends on the type of call of course.
“And a lot of times we’ve only got our Amherstburg base here in Amherstburg so they may be busy and not be able to respond.”
Volunteers must live within 15 minutes of Colchester Harbour, where the rescue boat is docked.
Training is intense – at least two, three-hour sessions a week.
And volunteers must be at the ready 24/7.
The operation usually operates three seasons and last year pulled the boat out of the water as late as Dec. 19.
One volunteer, family doctor Sheila Horen, has combined medicine with her love of boating.
“You have to get clearance through the Coast Guard,” she said.
“I’m in training, I’ve only been out on one, what they call a search and rescue, task.”
The training just reinforces her love of the work.
“It was the perfect combination and it’s a whole new group of wonderful people that I met, and it’s now my passion actually,” she said.