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Member Focus - Virgin Islands Search and Rescue

Posted in LIFELINE May 2017 - English

Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR) is a non-profit organisation (NPO) made up of 45 fully trained volunteer crew members. In 2016 alone these volunteers gave up over 2,200 hours of their personal time to saving lives at sea. Here VISAR Trainee, Kate Mullan, explains more about the organisation and about how a jar of Orange Marmalade has kick started a fundraising drive.

VISAR is located in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) which is made up of four main islands, with a total land area of 59 square miles and a population of circa 33,000 people. This small Caribbean Island chain is known for near perfect year round sailing conditions and pristine beaches and this has led the cruise ship industry to make Tortola a weekly stop on their itineraries.

In 2016, tourism brought in over 406,000* visitors to the territory with an additional 699,105* cruise ship guests. With the increase in tourism, VISAR has found the demand for medical assistance has dramatically increased since the organization’s inception nearly 30 years ago. *http://www.caribjournal.com/2017/02/26/bvi-tourism-performing/.

VISAR was founded in 1988, after a team of development advisers from the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office was sent to the BVI to make recommendations to the Government of the Virgin Islands. One of their recommendations was that the Government should invite the informal SAR service to create an "autonomous, para-professional, dedicated volunteer maritime search and rescue service." So, at the request of the Government, VISAR became an official NPO and was modelled on the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in the UK. Much like the RNLI, and many other lifeboat services in Europe, it is an independent, volunteer-based organisation funded almost entirely by charitable donations.

The majority of the $225,000 operating budget is raised through personal donations, memberships and a variety of fundraising programs and on Saturday 18 February, VISAR honoured its largest personal donor, by renaming the Tortola Base in memory of Mrs. Elisabeth Ann Harris.

Mr. Gerard Kraakman, president of VISAR, welcomed Mr. Roger Harris and his daughter Susan Roller, who generously gave a substantial donation to VISAR in Elisabeth’s honour. The Harris family have been strong supporters and true friends of VISAR since it formed in 1988, giving in any way they could, large or small. Roger is affectionately known as ‘the marmalade man’ and he shared with attendees the story of how Elisabeth started making marmalade to sell for charity and donating most of the proceeds to VISAR.

"After her death I carried on with the labour of love."

Roger spoke on his wife’s passion for sailing and adventure: She started at the age of 12 with her father in their dinghy at Hayling Island in the south of England and went on to Bermuda as a nurse (where Roger met her) and then onwards to Fiji, Saudi Arabia and the BVI. Many boats were sailed along the way, ending up with their treasured Catalina “Cool Change” in Tortola, which they happily sailed for 16 years until Ann’s death.

ea harris 2Roger rounded off his speech by strongly encouraging banks, trust companies, charter boat operators, marina owners and ships, and even government, to realise the important role played by this totally voluntary and unfinanced organisation, and be more generous in contributions to keep them afloat!

Roger’s generous donation will kick-start VISAR’s fundraising drive for replacement rescue vessels for the BVI, which is VISAR’s main focus in 2017, aiming to have them on island in 2018. VISAR will also be launching a safety at sea campaign working with the charter boat industry to raise awareness of some of the common accidents and emergencies they are called to in the BVI waters, and how to minimize risks.

Gerard expressed that, “along with our volunteer crew, our vessels are the number one tool for saving lives at sea". In 2016 the boats launched 82 times and VISAR is there for all those that work, play or live on the water, providing access to world class marine emergency services.

A Jar of marmalade might not seem like much but the profits from just 3 of those jars pays for one volunteer to have emergency first responder training and 8 jars pay for a lifesaving EpiPen for major allergic reactions.

"It's never just a jar of marmalade to us, it is a life saved!"

Other speakers at the event included Dr. the Honourable D. Orlando Smith, OBE, MHA, Premier and Minister of Finance for the Virgin Islands; His Excellency Governor John Duncan; and the Harris’s family Reverend, Father David Stedman.

Since its inception, VISAR, has carried out over 1,300 search and rescue missions. If you are interested in supporting VISAR, a range of corporate membership levels offering brand exposure benefits are available to support this life changing search and rescue response.

For more information on VISAR, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or www.visar.org.



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International Maritime Rescue Federation
50 Allardice Street
AB39 2RA
United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 (0) 1569 767405

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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