Petr Jago sees a boater fishing by the Bluffer’s Park breakwater and throttles the twin engines to a purr.
Jago and his uniformed crew cruise by slowly, leaving hardly any wake behind their high-speed rescue boat.
The fisherman waves. He’s got shades on for the sun, nothing for the water.
“There is still no one wearing life jackets out here,” says coxswain Derek Cartier, waving back.
A minute later, a family shoots by in a powerboat and gives Cartier a little hope – everyone but mom has a life jacket on.
Promoting water safety is one reason why Jago, Cartier and two dozen others volunteer with Toronto Search and Rescue, the only volunteer marine rescue unit in the city. They will perform boater safety checks, and run an outreach program for East End schools.
But they also equip and train for moments when caution fails, and someone needs help on the water.
Between the Rouge River and Ashbridges Bay, where T-SAR patrols from its primary slip at Cathedral Bluffs Yacht Club, the last few weeks have seen drownings, a sinking boat and another that caught fire.
It’s still early days for T-SAR, which first launched its rescue boat on June 11, and the crew is not yet on-call.
But with full certification from the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, it won’t be much longer before their first rescue.
“Basically, everyone’s brand new,” said Jago, a unit commander.
Being new to T-SAR does not mean being new to boating, however.
A dockmaster at the Quay West Marina downtown, Jago and his wife Christine, a T-SAR director, were recruited in part because they live on a 40-foot boat year-round.
“We have no desire to move on land,” he said, laughing.
Besides GPS, radio gear and paper charts, the T-SAR crew trains on lifesaving equipment that ranges from throw bags to oxygen tanks, rescue ladders to life rafts.
But before they could launch that on-water training, T-SAR’s directors had to do four years of work to get incorporated as a non-profit and certified with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, not to mention fundraising for a 30-foot Pursuit boat with 450-horsepower engines.
Finding that boat at a good price kicked off a search that went from Newfoundland to Florida and the Great Lakes.
T-SAR relies on private sponsors and community memberships – there is no money from the city or the province, and federal funding is limited to insurance, training, and pay for the rescues they are assigned from Trenton.
Given everything it took to get on the water, Patrick Curtis, the chairman of T-SAR, is thrilled by how their boat is performing.
Coming back after helping out at a Toronto regatta two weeks ago, the waves ran three to four metres high.
“This boat was beautiful in it,” said Curtis, beaming as he prepared to go out and join another patrol. “Like a hot knife through butter.”
To learn more or to apply to volunteer with T-SAR, visit torontosearchandrescue.com. T-SAR memberships are $100 a year, and supporters receive a bi-annual newsletter.