Written by Peter Mallett the following shares two rescue stories of two navy veterans and current RCMSAR volunteers. This article was featured in the Lookout Navy News on May 25, 2021. 

Two men with ties to the Royal Canadian Navy have a few yarns to tell about their work as volunteers with the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue.

SLt Ilya Chudakov, a 39-year-old Marine Systems Engineer with HMCS Winnipeg, and Earle Shirley, a 68-year-old retiree who previously served 28 years in the navy mostly as a reservist, both volunteer at RCMSAR’s Victoria Rescue Station, located at Ogden Point

Back in 2015, a large wave toppled a scuba diving club’s boat sending nine divers into the water off Race Rocks. A worker at a nearby lighthouse saw the boat capsize and immediately put out a call to the Canadian Coast Guard via the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre. Shirley and team were dispatched. “We worked with a vessel from our [RCMSAR] sister station in Sooke to rescue all nine divers in extremely rough sea conditions,” he says.

When they arrived on the scene some of the divers had climbed on to the overturned boat, others were hanging on. Due to rough seas, it was too dangerous to come alongside the overturned vessel; so they were forced to throw a line and pull each diver to safety. They were suffering from mild hypothermia and sea sickness
but the RCMSAR team was able to bring them ashore at nearby Pedder Bay where they received medical treatment.

SLt Chudakov recalls a SAR operation four years ago that was a “valuable learning experience” in handling a tense situation. It began with an urgency call from a sailboat proceeding under power near the Ogden Point lighthouse. Winds were light and the seas calm, he remembers.

The boat had broken down in a narrow and busy channel between the sea terminal and seaplane runway. SLt Chudakov was part of a RCMSAR team that came alongside the stricken vessel. It was Shirley, serving as the boat’s coxswain, who communicated with both the sailing vessel and Victoria Coast Guard radio on how to proceed. The occupants of the boat grew rapidly impatient and upset about the delay, but Shirley defused the situation with his calm composure.

Operators of the boat were eventually able to regain power and the sailboat made its way safely to port. SLt Chudakov says it wasn’t the nature of the call that stuck with him, but more importantly the lesson learned in terms of remaining calm and following the necessary procedures no matter what the circumstances or how frantic those are at the scene.

RCMSAR has strong ties to the military among our volunteers. Military members are a perfect fit for our organization because they bring with them their willingness to work in a team under pressure, able to deploy and respond to any scenario whatever it might be. We are honoured to have many past and current veterans serving our communities saving lives on the water.