It’s early February and a light dusting of snow falls over the region. Out on the roads, salters liberally spread their precious cargo behind plows bustling the snow to the shoulder while drivers sipping their last drop of coffee, mentally prepare themselves for a longer commute. Our bay, frozen over from the cold, give local ice fishermen firm footing on a world only months before was the sole domain of sailors, young and old. To the boating community, the Toronto Boat Show might now be just a memory but the hopes and dreams it teased remain engrained in minds ready to blossom once the sun arrives. The purchases they made, some good, some well perhaps a bit too hopeful, start collecting a light layer of dust in basements and garages. They too patiently await the seasonal warming now only months away. For many the boating season remains a distant dream, packed firmly away for the time being to be replaced by the stuffing of March Break suitcases with swim trunks and shorts as a southerly exodus is ready to launch and elude winter’s grip. At this time of year for these folks, the seasonal patterns rooted in our minds remain robotically focused on a wintertime escape to better climates.
For the members of PARA, however, the new season is not a few months away, no for us the season actually “starts” back in late November, even as the previous season slowly winds down. While many members joined our local communities celebrating the holidays, in the back-ground work was well underway for the 2020 season. But what does that really mean, what does it really take to prepare for a season of saving lives, helping others in need. What are the real building blocks necessary for a successful year once May arrives…
Step 1: Membership
As with any year, we experience an expected, though periodically surprising, change in membership. While usually anticipated it doesn’t make the process any less difficult, not only for those making the decision but also to the SAR family they leave behind. No, the decision to step down is never an easy one. As volunteers in an emergency service role, the label “volunteer” can be a bit misleading. No, we are not professional in the financial sense and yes, we all have other jobs to keep us busy during our PARA Marine Search and Rescue downtime, but its not a as simple as that, it never is. All of us enjoy giving back to our local Durham communities, its who we are, and we certainly all love the opportunity PARA Marine Search and Rescue offers us to do just that. Its not the opportunity itself but the time and emotional commitment one makes can often be the real challenge for our members and, perhaps more importantly for their families. The time we spend training, patrolling and “promoting” water safety really tugs at the commitments we have at home. This “volunteer” commitment, coupled with the time we all spend with our “day” jobs and one can begin to imagine the real impact on families, friends and other outside activities. A change in careers, family commitments, a shift in priorities can often mean its time to make tough decisions. Each year it’s the same cycle. Despite a passion for who we are and what we do, some of our membership must make that tough decision every year.
A door closes for some and opens for others. Member departures translates to opportunities for new candidates to bring fresh experiences on-board. With our season winding down and the day to day madness slowing down to a dull roar, the fall is the ideal time for us to identify and select new members. 2020 was no different. Coming out of 2019, we had the room to bring on eight new members. As always, the decision is never as easy as it looks. With over fourteen candidates to select from this year, we had a very hard decision. Its always important to find the right fit, one that works for us and one that works for the candidate. Once the dust settled, we selected our new crop of members and despite being only a few months in, its already clear we made the right decision.
Step 2: Funding
It will come as no surprise running a volunteer rescue boat requires financial support. While our operational budget is consistent, thanks to the ongoing support of Durham Region, additional funds are always required to help keep PARU and our kit up-to-date and fresh. 2020 is not different. Individual donors are always appreciated, of course, but the real funds required are usually identified via grants. Over the past few years we have received gracious support from all three of our local communities as well as from key local businesses including Firehouse Subs and OPG. So, what’s on the “menu” you ask, well for this year, among other things we have targeted new windows and new electronics. Hoping for a positive response, we would be amiss to not take this time to thank all our donors for recognizing the importance of the work we do.
Step 3: Training
Dark cold and stormy winter nights might seem better suited for night in, safely tucked away watching television or reading a book. Some might see it that way but to us, it’s the perfect time to gather around and share tall sea tales with some of our newer less experienced members. The only twist is what the veterans are sharing are not sea tales at all but key lessons on leadership and managing a crew as part of our Coxswain Training program. Regular crew turn over coupled with individual growth means that every year we have 2 or 3 members stepping up ready to take on some added responsibility. January and February nights are the perfect time to start these folks out on the journey. 2020 is no different and this year we have had a number of members stepping up into key second in command (2IC) roles across our crews. The focus of this early season prep is all about understanding and recognizing the skills necessary to be a good leader; to identify when to apply those skills and often as importantly, to back off and let the crew learn and grow together. Our Coxswain Training is a critical piece of PARA Marine Search and Rescue’s organizational puzzle. Always building towards the future by developing the coxswains and executive of tomorrow.
Step 4: Maintenance
Keeping PARU in a steady “GO” state is, as all boat owners know, an ongoing, never ending dance. With the need to launch at a moment notice only increases the pressure on the team. Last year saw a heightened concern due to port engine issues. It was a challenge that arose relatively early in the season, one we had to balance all summer long. With the boat out of the water, the off season provides an ideal opportunity to take care of nagging engine issues. So once PARU was safely lifted the plan to strip and repair the engine kicked in. The investigation, culminating in a replaced injector, should help us launch with the knowledge our current troubles are behind us. Reading this many of you might have just rolled your eyes as experienced boaters we all know another issue may unfortunately be just around the corner. Its for this very reason our maintenance team starts early every year preparing the vessel for the year to come.
Step 5: Administration
Membership, training, funding and maintenance, all key elements that share a common thread. Tying all this work together is an administrative effort that is frankly second to none. All our teams work tirelessly during the offseason to ensure our vessel and its crews are always primed and ready to go, technically, physically and most importantly mentally prepared with the tools, skills and information they need to be successful. To do this we need to ensure we cross all our “t”s and dot all our “i”s. Whether it is meeting with local community leaders, submitting funding requests, setting up a training schedule, building out a patrol calendar or refreshing our crew lists, the work goes on and on. With the boat at rest, November and December are the ideal time to lay down the 2020 foundation. Many hands make light work, and this is never more evident than in the tireless administrative burden that many of our members support even while the bay itself remains frozen over, a barrier to even the thought of launching.
A Wrinkle This Year
Image is everything. It speaks to who you are, what you represent and how you, in turn, deliver on that commitment. Its no different for a non-for-profit charity like PARA Marine Search and Rescue as it is for a multinational like Coca Cola or Pepsi. For organizations like those its clear to all what they are trying to sell. For an organization like ours, the message and its delivery should be no less obscure, and branding is the key. Its for this reason that in 2020 we decided to revisit our branding. We all felt strongly that our historical brand of Pickering Auxiliary Rescue Association (PARA), really didn’t speak to consistently all the communities we serve with pride. Pickering, of course, has always been a critical partner to our success and sustainability, but over the years an ever-growing expanded presence both on the water and off, has amplified our profile in other local communities like Ajax and Whitby. This growing regional awareness really gave our executive something to consider. While understanding the importance of history and tradition, one cannot simply ignore a powerful undercurrent of change. Acknowledging and embracing the change, the unanimous decision was to rebrand. We wanted something that would both verbally and visually reflect “us” without truly distancing ourselves from our proud history and heritage. It took some time and a lot of self-reflection but when the dust settled, we were all in agreement in our need to truly reflect who we are and, just as importantly, where we came from.
So, when you see us out on the water this year you will likely do a double take, heck to be honest you might not even recognize us thanks to our new look. As a way to launch the new brand we have embarked on a total refresh, one that would be all encompassing from a new name, PARA Marine Search and Rescue, to a new logo with exciting new colour palette with a nod to Search and Rescue, to the vessel itself, currently undergoing a revitalizing paint job, and finally to the kit our members wear. Its an exciting time for our organization. Our community awareness is growing, and our community partnerships are ever strengthening through positive collaboration. It’s a great time to relaunch who we are, united by the communities we serve.
Its snowing again tonight and the colder air has extended the freeze on the bay to the channel itself. Even the birds have had to find refuge in the lake with bayside prime water real estate at a premium. Despite that, even now there are likely 4 or 5 of our members working away on some aspect of pre-season preparations. Its as predictable as a Raptors win these days. Despite day jobs and families and other commitments, our dedicated group of volunteers are always working to ensure that rain or shine, night or day, PARU is ready, her crew prepped and her support team focused on bringing home those in need.