For boaties, joining Coastguard is a small investment that could save their life.

In Whanganui, the majority of callouts are for breakdowns at sea, and with the dangerous currents and drifts on the west coast, a breakdown can easily turn into a life or death situation.

The service allows boaties to log a trip report and if a boat is overdue Coastguard will check up on it.

A major concern for Coastguard is people reporting their locations incorrectly. For instance boaties sometimes read out their favourite saved fishing spot instead of their actual location.

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Jamie Newell has years of experience on the water recreationally, as a surf lifesaver and with the Coastguard.

"A good modern GPS is good within 5 metres of the exact point of your position on earth," he said. "So having that, you can obviously save all your good fishing spots and always go back to the same spot every time and in an emergency you're able to be found.

"If they can find you within minutes you've got a lot better chance of surviving."

Coastguard offers boating courses and recommends a one-day skipper's course and a radio course.

Newell highly recommends an additional piece of kit called an EPIRB or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.

"In a major emergency, EPIRB's by far your best chance of survival. As soon as it goes off there is someone behind a desk who sees it and they are instantly sent your latitude and longitude.

"As soon as they have received that EPIRB callout they generally put a chopper in the air within minutes to that location.

"in the meantime, obviously police, Coastguard and any other services are released at the same time."

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The Whanganui Coastguard covers a massive stretch of coast from Patea down to the Rangitīkei River and 12 nautical miles out to sea. It also covers inland, 18km up the Whanganui River to Hipango Park where rapids prevent the boat going any further.

Despite its importance, Coastguard is a charitable organisation and is staffed by volunteers. Membership costs $115 nationally or just $60 for a local membership.

Whanganui Coastguard is always on the lookout for volunteers to operate the radio, help out around the clubhouse or operate the boat. Volunteers receive full training, with some going right through to get their skipper's ticket.

Pam Gilligan has been volunteering for over two decades.

"We work from home until there are about 40 boats out," she said. "And we are here at headquarters for any fishing competitions. We come on at six and work through till one, but we don't stay out of bed. Our radios keep running and we can hear them if anyone calls us."

But it's not just the skills people pick up that makes Coastguard volunteers tick. Gary Hawkins says most people get a kick out of helping others.

"It's a warm fuzzy feeling when you bring someone home safe."

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