Rowena Orejana reports on a special man behind the scenes who has kept us safe on the water for decades - and how his job is changing.

Mechanics Bay mirrors the grey-cast skies as rain drizzles on one of Coastguard Auckland's two large boats gently bobbing on the water.

The boat's skipper, Howick resident Brooke Archbold, looks out to the horizon.

"We do a lot of boating over the horizon and in the middle of the night. We're not visible. We go out when other people don't go out. That's our job," he says. "It can be uncomfortable. It can be very, very boring then, suddenly, it's all adrenalin, all excitement."

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Mr Archbold is the epitome of a Coastguard volunteer. He has recently been awarded Coastguard New Zealand Life Membership in recognition of his extensive and valuable service spanning 27 years. He is one of just 10 people awarded the honour in the Coastguard's history.

Mr Archbold says volunteers today face more challenges than ever. "The world is changing and it's a lot more difficult now for volunteers to put in the time," he says. "Everyone has lots of other things to do."

He notes there are also far greater pressures and higher expectations from the public. "We must now meet health and safety standards, training standards and understand legal issues. We have to be very professional in what we do."

Mr Archbold stresses training is the key. He is the chairman of Coastguard Boating Education and is instrumental in developing this sector of the organisation.

Coastguard chief executive Bruce Reid says Mr Archbold has largely designed the system, taught it and promoted it.

"Brooke's personal dedication and unwavering commitment to raising the standards of our operational crew has seen the skills, professionalism, standards and the confidence of our skippers and crew advance enormously," says Mr Reid.

Coastguard Boating Education offers classroom courses, a wide range of core and specialist courses and on-water courses through a partnership with the Royal Yachting Association.

It is also putting more effort into e-learning. "People have less time. A lot of people don't want to turn up here every night two to three months for three hours.

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"Those days are sort of gone. A lot of people also want new ways of doing things. We have to adjust to the times," says Mr Archbold.

As chairman of boating education, Mr Archbold is a member of the national board. He is also the representative in the International Maritime Rescue Federation, which helps developing countries set up effective rescue operations.

His own vessels, Bees Knees, Murphy and Wally Toab, have each served as rescue vessels.

Mr Archbold is also a Search and Rescue Controller for the Coastguard Northern Region.

With so much time devoted to this service, Mr Archbold says it is not only volunteers who make sacrifices but their partners as well. "Because we're volunteers, not only does it cost us personally in money, but it also costs in time. Your partner contributes equally. That's the thing that people often forget."

Mr Archbold says there is a great deal to love about the water. "Use it and enjoy it, just do it safely. Be a responsible skipper, but enjoy."

Coastguard New Zealand

Coastguard is the charity that provides New Zealand's primary maritime search and rescue service. It has more than 18,000 supporter members and 2146 active professional volunteers who provide more than 350,000 hours of their time each year to educate, protect and help save lives at sea.