We sit down with last year’s winner of the IMRF’s Vladimir Maksimov Award for Lifetime Achievement and People’s Choice Award Patrick van Eyssen to discuss his volunteering career and what winning those awards meant to him.

The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) is a South African volunteer search-and-rescue (SAR) organisation that provides essential rescue services, as well as education and training to the public on how to keep safe at sea.

It was founded in 1967 after three fishing vessels were lost at sea, causing Patti Price, a local teacher who was rescued by the UK’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution as a child, to write to local authorities requesting their own sea rescue service.

In 2021 the NSRI undertook more than 1,000 SAR operations, rescuing about 960 people. The same year it recorded more than 156,000 training hours for its army of volunteers.

With an astounding 50 years of active service and more than 8,000 volunteer hours under his belt, Patrick van Eyssen has been a stalwart member of South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).

Patrick joined the NSRI in 1971 as a 19-year-old volunteer at the service’s Station 1 in Cape Town harbour. He has spent most of his years as a lifeboat coxswain, leading dozens of successful rescue missions in the challenging conditions off the coast of Cape Town, infamously known as ‘The Cape of Storms’.

He has twice served as Station Commander of Cape Town’s flagship station in the V&A Waterfront.

Last year, Patrick won the IMRF’s Vladimir Maksimov Award for Lifetime Achievement, as well as the People’s Choice Award, for his decades of service to the NSRI and his dedication to help and train fellow volunteer search-and-rescue (SAR) operators.

It’s wonderful that people are acknowledged for their dedication to their lifesaving organisations. I certainly was overwhelmed and felt honored to receive both awards for my years of service to the NRSI. It is something I never expected but certainly appreciate,” Patrick said.

Winning an award like this had never entered my mind as what I do for the institute is out of the love for mankind.

For Patrick, training the up-and-coming generation of SAR volunteers is one of his passions.

It is very fulfilling. We have had trained dedicated volunteers to become fully trained crew members. However, young people today get work opportunities that take them abroad or to different parts of the country, which are opportunities they can’t refuse. We then have to start recruiting and training new crew all over again. It is a never-ending challenge.

Over the years, Patrick has also found that the ever-evolving use of technology in SAR operations has made his role much simpler and more effective.

Mobile phones have made our jobs so much easier. Fifty years ago there were no mobile phones meaning that, when on duty, someone had be near a telephone at all times. If you were visiting friends or were out to town, you would have to leave your contact details with a local medical control centre in case of an emergency. We then started using pagers, which made communicating slightly easier, but mobile phones have changed the game for us,” he said.

Despite all these challenges, Patrick maintained that being a SAR volunteer is a truly unique life experience, especially for those who dedicate themselves to saving lives at sea.

I’m always looking for our volunteers to give their best. Once our volunteers are fully trained and been on a number of rescue operations, they realise the satisfaction of knowing that, because of you, a life has been saved. It moulds you, prepares you for many things in life, and makes you a better person,” he added.

The nominations for this year’s IMRF Awards are now open. The IMRF is looking for you to nominate an individual, or a team, that has shown excellence in their field, developed innovative technology and equipment, or acted as a role model to inspire others.

This year’s Awards will also shine a light on everyone, who makes up the SAR ecosystem, particularly those colleagues who offer tireless support, training, and planning to enable SAR crews to do what they do, safe in the knowledge that they are all part of the same team.

Nominations are open until 29 July 2022 and the winners will be announced at the IMRF’s annual European Regional Development Meeting on 19 October 2022.

Click on the following link to make your nomination today.

IMRF Awards 2022
Sponsor of the IMRF #WomenInSAR Award