A swan flaps its wings in the water a few times and then takes off by the Helmilaituri pier in the Lapaluoto region in Raahe. The maritime rescuers donning their gear at the Raahe Maritime Rescue Association’s facility are enjoying the warmth of the sunny and almost still weather. The group consists of both junior and more mature members: boys and girls, men and women.
“We are all here because we want to help others,” says Petri Alminoja, head of the association’s youth activities.
At the moment, the group members have not been called into action to help a sailboat that has ran aground or to search for a person reported missing in the sea area. Today the rescue vessels Niilo Saarinen, Jyry and Aavewill head to the Museonranta area in the center of Raahe, where they will join many other associations in transporting city residents out to sea in a project to clean the archipelago.
Alminoja corrects a popular misconception concerning a maritime rescuer’s favorite weather at sea: the best conditions involve strong winds and high waves.
“When a storm is rising, leisure boaters make a beeline for the shore, but we hop on the vessel and get going.”
Alminoja says that maritime rescue skills must be practiced no matter what the weather – even in extreme conditions, when the need for help is most likely to arise. People’s skills must be up-to-date at all times. Saving lives is always the most important task, and it also always takes priority. However, Raahe’s maritime rescuers are most commonly needed when boaters run out of fuel, their boat's engine breaks down, or the boat gets stuck in the shallows.
The operations of the Raahe Maritime Rescue Association are governed by the Finnish Border Guard. In recent years, the number of the association's assignments have increased as the Finnish Border Guard has had to downsize their coast guard stations. The maritime rescuers from Raahe can often reach the rescue site more quickly than the rescuers from the Border Guard, which is stationed in Virpiniemi in Oulu.
It’s not all work - the members of the Raahe Maritime Rescue Association also get to take a relaxing break and enjoy the sunshine and birds. However, they’d rather be in real action. Young participants Maija Viirret and Miro Välijärvi are aiming to be maritime rescuers in the future.
Celebrating 50 years of operation
The Raahe Maritime Rescue Association, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, wants to ensure that interest in maritime search and rescue will continue for at least another half a century. This is why the association has been focusing on recruiting new members.
Children can join the junior and youth activities at the age of 12.
“It’s the highlight of the week,” say youth members Miro Välijärvi, Julius Orava, Maija Viirret and Jenny Puhto, describing their weekly practice session.
“We practice first aid, surface rescues and using the equipment,” says Alminoja, the head of youth activities, listing the training, which advances by age group.
However, the most important things to learn concern your own safety, occupational safety and first aid skills. As a bonus, participants learn cooperation and social skills, since working closely together is vital at sea.
When a storm is rising, but we hop on the vessel and get going.
At 18, young participants can join the actual emergency operations.
Merituulia Haikara has been participating in the youth activities of maritime rescue for four years and is looking forward to next summer, when she will become a full member of the crew. She also goes scuba diving.
“I got totally hooked the first time I tried maritime rescue operations. The people here are awesome, the activities are varied, and you learn new things all the time. There is nothing better than getting out to sea and also driving the boat yourself,” Haikara says.
A piecemeal budget
Enthusiasm alone is not enough to run the non-profit maritime rescue operations. The association’s director Markus Lehto admits that funding the operations – with an annual budget of approximately EUR 30,000 – is challenging, since the fuel costs alone swallow a third of the budget every year. The association's facility and fleet also need money, and the rescuers’ gear needs to be replaced at times.
This year, Fennovoima is one of the association’s sponsors. The support provided by the company helps fund, in particular, the association’s youth activities and the Finnish maritime rescue championships, that were held at the Raahen Meripäivät maritime festival in July. The championships are the main event of the Raahe Maritime Rescue Association’s anniversary year. According to Alminoja, external support is important for the association.
The association receives compensation for the official rescue missions it performs and financial aid from the municipality of Raahe, but the operations are also funded by taking paying customers out to the archipelago, leasing out the association’s facility, and collecting support fees.
The association’s director Markus Lehto is one of the members who’s eligible to ride the rescue vessel Niilo Saarinen.
Raahe Maritime Rescue Association
- An activity and service association operating under the umbrella organization the Finnish Lifeboat Institution.
- The association assists in rescue operations at sea, primarily saving lives.
- Established in 1968. Finland’s first maritime rescue youth group operated in Raahe in the 1990s.
- The association trains its entire crew with its own resources. The career path from novice extends to first engineer or master.
- There are 140 members. There are about 20 active members in emergency operations, and about 20 involved in the junior activities.
- In 2017, the association had 11 rescue missions, and in 2016, the number of missions was 17.