THE Richmond River bar is not to be messed with, according to Ballina Coast Guard Commander Norm Lannoy.
He said the local bar was one of two of the most treacherous on the eastern seaboard.
And that was evident last week with two separate incidents on the bar on consecutive days.
About 6.20am on Wednesday last week, a fishing charter boat with three people on board capsized.
The skipper, who asked not to be identified, said he was trying to turn around when a wave hit the side of the boat.
The swell on the bar at the time was recorded as being between two to three metres.
Then, about 6.30am on Thursday last week, two outrigger canoes were swamped by waves and eight people rescued from just outside the bar.
The canoeists were inside the bar catching waves during a routine training session – they weren’t trying to cross the bar – when the larger six-man canoe was swamped by a wave, and the smaller four-man canoe came into strife when it went to its aid.
The Ballina Jet Boat Rescue crew, a surf ski rider from the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Life Saving Club and board riders came to the aid of the people who were in the canoes.
Both incidents happened near low tide, and the volunteers in the coast guard tower raised the alarm both times.
Cmdr Lannoy said boaties had to have patience at the bar, and respect for the ocean.
“But once you’ve committed to go, you’ve got to go and you don’t turn around,” he said.
He said there was a real technique in reading the bar conditions.
“If you’re in any doubt, don’t go,” he said.
Cmdr Lannoy said the winds, waves and swell, and the open nature of the surrounds, meant the conditions on the bar could change in 10 minutes.
And he said an outgoing tide made conditions rougher.
When the incidents occurred last week, the coast guard volunteers in the North Wall tower recommended the bar was not suitable for crossing.
Cmdr Lannoy urges all boaties to take their advice.
“If we say it is not recommended, we would prefer if they (skippers) don’t go,” he said.
“If they (skippers) do go and they get turned over in the bar, guess who gets to go? It’s either us (coast guard) or the jet boat.
“It comes back to the skippers – they’re responsible.”
Cmdr Lannoy said 90 per cent of boaties did the right thing, but also said that accidents could happen to the best skippers and crews.
The coast guard’s rescue boat is equipped with two 200hp Honda outboards, and the crews undergo strict training, giving them more knowledge about bar crossings than weekend boaties.
Cmdr Lannoy said boaties must wear life jackets when crossing the bar, they should check in with the coast guard and radios should be left on during a bar crossing.
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