The Canadian Coast Guard’s Community Boat Volunteer Program will put search and rescue vessels in additional Nunavut communities this summer.
Arviat, Pond Inlet and Taloyoak are the next proposed Coast Guard auxiliary locations.
Iqaluit, Arctic Bay, Coral Harbour and Qikiqtarjuaq have also expressed interest, according to the Coast Guard. Cape Dorset Mayor Timoon Toonoo said his community also wants to host such a vessel.
“When local search and rescue have to do a search, they use their own boat and equipment. We are working to get Coast Guard auxiliary. (They) would own the boat and boat garage,” Toonoo stated. “Residents would be very welcoming to the Coast Guard presence for safety and search and rescue.”
In Cambridge Bay, which took possession of a 28-foot rescue vessel last August, Wilf Wilcox, the unit leader for the 11-member auxiliary team, said the new boat was quickly pressed into service four times, which represented an unusual burst of activity.
“They went out on a medical distress (call) that was like a 90-mile one-way trip. They were able to go and provide assistance and get back here in a reasonable amount of time with a reasonable amount of crew,” said Wilcox. “I just feel so much better as a unit leader seeing our guys go out on such a high-calibre boat.”
He said the vessel comes with powerful outboard motors, plenty of navigational gear, a heater, a good radio and other equipment.
“This boat here puts us in an altogether different class,” he said, adding that Cambridge Bay previously made do with an old RCMP vessel. “We have a boat where we can actually do planning and coordinating on the boat… with those capabilities comes the requirements for lots of training too.”
Wilcox noted that Cambridge Bay volunteers are doing some of that training with larger auxiliary units from Yellowknife and Hay River.
“It’s Northerners teaching Northerners. There’s some real good trends happening,” he said.
Clyde River and Kugluktuk were approved for search and rescue boats in 2019, but Kugluktuk’s vessel is due to be delivered this summer.
Gjoa Haven and Rankin Inlet – the site of an inshore rescue boat – were granted search and rescue boats in 2018.
Coast Guard spokesperson Jeremy Hennessy noted that the size of the search and rescue vessel and its crew varies by location. The Community Boats program also provides funding to purchase related equipment such as lifejackets, navigation lights, flares, survival suits, satellite phones and first aid supplies.
Hennessy added that the involvement of Northerners in search and rescue missions is critical.
“Local communities are an essential part of SAR in the Arctic, with trained personnel who have extensive knowledge of the specific risks present in different waterways and areas across the Arctic,” he stated.