Nine divers rescued after boat capsizes near Race Rocks, TC Nov 17, 2015

Also see Ecoguardians report at


Richard Watts / Times Colonist
November 15, 2015 11:18 PM

Rescue in progress off Race Rocks Sunday afternoon.   Photograph By Don Macisaac/Pearson College, Race Rocks

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UPDATED: Two volunteer rescue crews, one from Victoria and the other from Sooke, improvised a tag-team-style effort to pluck nine stricken scuba divers off a bouncing, capsized boat Sunday afternoon.

Jason van der Valk, coxswain of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue craft based in Sooke, said his crew started the rescue by throwing a line to the boat capsized near Race Rocks, and pulling first one, then two divers to safety from the water.

The Sooke boat then moved aside while its crew checked out the medical condition of the two rescued divers. Meanwhile, the Victoria boat moved in and repeated the heaving-line rescue for one more diver. Then, it was the Sooke boat’s turn again.

The strategy was repeated until all nine recreational divers had been pulled to safety. They were taken to Pedder Bay Marina, where ambulances and helicopters were waiting. None suffered anything worse than mild hypothermia and seasickness.

Van der Valk said the dual-team rescue had never been rehearsed or tried before. But after countless hours of drills and hard training, rescue crews learn to put together best procedures on the spur of the moment.

“That’s the first time,” he said in a telephone interview. “But just knowing how everybody is going to operate it just went like clockwork.”

All nine rescued divers are members of a recreational diving club called the Aquarius Dive Club, based at CFB Esquimalt. Eight were wearing cold-water drysuits. One person, the boat driver, was without a dive suit.

Sara Helmeczi, acting spokeswoman for CFB Esquimalt, said the Aquarius Club is for service men and women and associated members from the public. It is not a military body.

Helmeczi said when the divers arrived at Race Rocks on Sunday, they decided it was too rough and tried to head elsewhere, but were swamped by waves.

She said four of the nine divers rescued on Sunday are military personnel, so the Canadian Armed Forces will conduct a safety investigation into the incident.

Van der Valk said the first call came in about 2 p.m. on Sunday, saying there were five people in a capsized boat near Race Rocks.

“We didn’t know much detail at first,” said van der Valk. “But they never like to delay, so it was just ‘Go! Go! Go!’ ”

He said Race Rocks, near the eastern entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is midway between Sooke and Victoria stations, so both responded in their Zodiac-style jet boats, Sooke with a crew of six and Victoria with five.

Van der Valk said the waves were four to six feet high at Race Rocks. When rescuers arrived at the scene, they could see four people in the water clinging to the boat and five sitting on top of the overturned hull. He estimated they had been in the water for 45 minutes to an hour.

“The waves were breaking over the boat and quite frankly I’m amazed they were able to hang on,” said van der Valk. “I’m surprised one of them hadn’t let go or fallen off and drifted away.

“Given the state of the sea, there is no way they could have swum back to the boat.”

Waiting nearby was a whale-watching boat, the Spring Tide, which had temporarily set its passengers on Race Rocks and stood by to help, if needed. A recreational fishing boat was also standing by.

But van der Valk said the two rescue craft have a special low ramp at the stern, making it easy to pull tired people from the water. As jet boats, they also have no propellors to cut feet treading water.

Don Macisaac, eco-guardian of Race Rocks, said his fellow guardian and fiancée, Nina Yousefpour, noticed the dive boat, which was initially upright, while doing chores. The two live full time on Race Rocks.

A short while later, the two saw the overturned boat with people waving, attempting to attract attention.

Macisaac said Yousefpour helped co-ordinate some of the emergency radio communication, including to fire officials assisting with ambulances at Pedder Bay. Meanwhile, Macisaac helped the Spring Tide unload its passengers and push back off.

Race Rocks, an ecological reserve managed by Pearson College, is normally off limits to the public.

Macisaac said the ocean temperature is about 9.7 C. “If they hadn’t been wearing wetsuits they would have been in a lot of trouble.”

This is the second emergency at Race Rocks in the last few months.

On July 5, Timothy Chu, a 27-year-old British police officer, became separated from his dive master and drowned. His body was recovered on Aug. 27.

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9 divers rescued after boat capsized

The boat was sighted overturned, approximately 300 meters south of the main island. 9 divers were clinging onto their boat for over an hour. Victoria Coast Guard responded promptly as did a tour boat in the area (Springtide). Eventually the 9 were reached to safety, with one in hypothermic state.

See TC Article: Nine DIvers rescued after boat capsizes near Race Rocks

Ecological Happenings

Rough sea conditions and winds up to 31 kts. Swells of up to 8ft @ Jordan River

Marine Vessels

One tour boat (Springtide) and one dive boat. Eventually the tour boat was involved in the rescue of the dive boat and its 9 divers.


9 passengers from the tour boat Springtide were offloaded at RR docks, to make room for Springtide’s rescue attempt. The passengers were on the island for approximately 1 hour before returning to the boat.

Assisting boaters

At ~1000hrs PDT the vessel “Rogue” was spotted speeding out of the Reserve and maneuvering unnecessarily.
At ~1014hrs PDT a Prince of Whales vessel was spotted throttling up and speeding out of the Reserve.

A small runabout with three POB (people On Board) pulled up to the island this afternoon, out of gas and with battery issues. The ecoguardian sold some gas to the men and helped them to recharge their battery before they headed off towards Becher Bay.

There were 2 visitors to the island today.

23 eco tour boats, 7 pleasure craft,

Sunday, June 23, 2002
Good Evening
TEMPERATURE: Max. 15.5 C  Min. 10.1 C Reset 13.5 Rain tr.
THE DAY: Cloudy  Vis. 15 Miles  Wind South 13 Knots till 12:30 then W 15 to 22 Knots  Sea Rippled to 1 Foot Chop 13:00 2 to3 Foot Chop
MARINE LIFE: Lone mature bald eagle made several unsuccessful hunts over Gr. Race finally giving up and flying over towards Whirl Bay just after 15:00, the birds were unsettled for several hours.The goslings are growing fast and are about 3/4 the size of the adults with the most noticeable increase in their wings which they ‘exercise’ frequently-I think I know where the expression ‘silly as a goose’ comes from- balance is everything!
HUMAN INTERACTION: There were 23 eco tour boats, 7 pleasure craft,one college Zodiac and 1 dive boat in the reserve today, the station boat made a trip out to assist boater out of fuel! Station boat also made a trip to Pedder Bay and back.
posted by at 6:19 PM
Good Morning
WEATHER: Sky Cloudy  Vis. 15 Miles  Wind South 13 Knots  Sea Rippled to 1 Foot Chop
posted by at 5:07 AM

eagles were displaying some unusual acrobatics

Monday, May 20, 2002
Good Evening
TEMPERATURE: Max. 12.2 C  Min. 8.8 C  Reset 10.0 C  Rain 3.8 mm
MARINE LIFE: 2 mature Bald Eagles today. The eagles were displaying some unusual acrobatics,they would take off, fly in circles closer and closer then one of them would go almost upside down right under the other bird and splay it’s talons towards the higher one.I have seen them fly at each other like this when one has some food the other wants but neither bird had anything in it’s beak or talons.We watched them for about 20 minutes until they were well north of the island.
HUMAN INTERACTION: 3 pleasure craft and 2 ecotour boats through the reserve also one rigid hull with divers,which at one point had obviously lost sight of it’s divers. Fortunately a tour boat out of Sooke was in the area and had spotted the divers and was able to guide the dive boat to them for pick-up. The dive boat made about 10 frantic trips around Gr. Race but the divers had drifted quite a distance SSW of the reserve when finally picked up.We are always nervous when there are divers out here and always relieved to see everyone return to the boats safely.
posted by Carol or Mike S at 6:03 PM
Good Morning
WEATHER: Sky Overcast Vis. 15 Miles  Wind West 4 Knots  Sea Rippled
posted by Carol or Mike S at 5:29 AM

oil spill

At 1400 hrs. as sports fisher reported oil on water in   Whirl  Bay.

coastguard was contacted they said the matter was taken care of. At 15:00 hrs. A second sports-fisher  reported that the area was very contaminated. Military police and at rigid hull inflatable wear out around North rocks. At  15:15- 15:25 Hyaku  was out to check oil –Garry called and reported spill to Vancouver Coast Guard radio