Coastguard salutes skipper

Thelma Wilson was nominated by her crew mates for Volunteer of the Year.

Kawau Rescue skipper Thelma Wilson has been named the Northern Region Volunteer of the Year by New Zealand Coastguard.

The Volunteer of the Year award recognises crew members who have demonstrated exemplary dedication and skill.

Thelma has been a commercial skipper for 30 years and has been a volunteer with Coastguard for 12 years.

“They asked me to help out for six months and here I am still. It can be challenging but it’s also very rewarding,” she says.

Thelma says the variety of the job – from spending sunny days patrolling off Great Barrier to responding to urgent medicals – is what keeps her interested.

“There’s been people that wouldn’t be alive if we weren’t there in the nick of time,” she says.

She says the hardest jobs are trying to find a single person floating in the ocean, but it’s a great feeling when they are fished out of the water and sent home to their family.

The Kawau Rescue vessel is not permitted to sail without a qualified volunteer skipper to supervise.

Crew mate Paul Steinkamp says the unit has four skippers and 20 trained crew.

“Over the last year several skippers have been working outside of the area, and so the vast majority of call outs have fallen on Thelma’s shoulders,” Paul says.

Over the last 12 months, Thelma has been skipper on the boat for 237 hours on expeditions to facilitate both rescues and training.

As skipper, Thelma is responsible for crew safety, ensuring equipment is up to scratch and protocols are up-to-date.

As a trained Coastguard instructor, Thelma has provided a vital contribution to training new recruits and seeing them get qualified. She has also been nominated for the national Volunteer of the Year award.

In addition to her work with Coastguard, Thelma has been a local Department of Conservation ranger for 37 years and only recently resigned from that role.

Anyone interested in joining Coastguard who is physically fit and lives within 20 minutes of Sandspit is invited to email

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