Is it time to put a price on rescue missions?

Dozens of people on Wednesday afternoon would have endured one of the most dreadful feelings known to human nature.

Official and volunteer search and rescue teams were activated on the state’s East Coast, after a capsized dinghy was found unmanned in the waters off St Helens.

Based on evidence, police and first responders feared the worst: that they were about to undertake a body recovery mission.

Thankfully, the day did not end with any fatalities. The vessel’s occupants were found alive and safe, having abandoned their upturned boat and opting instead for a spot of snorkelling.

All involved in the search efforts – more than 25 people on the ground, boat crews, the town’s volunteer marine rescue service, police and those aboard the Westpac Rescue Helicopter – were no doubt relieved with the outcome.

That relief would have swiftly turned to frustration.

Police would not reveal a final dollar figure for the full-scale search operation, adding only that it was a “significant” cost.

Indeed, a price tag cannot and should not be put on search and rescue missions. 

But there is a difference between a valued and highly skilled rescue mission, and a waste of resources.

Unfortunately, it would appear that Wednesday’s incident at St Helens edged towards the latter.

The boat’s occupants did not follow proper procedure in reporting the capsize, and their safety. It was surely just an oversight, and not a deliberate act.

But the result was a four-hour search, during which resources were wasted and people’s emotions stretched to breaking point. 

As the reports of the incident hit social media, the public was quick to call for action. Some said the men at the centre of the whole thing should foot the bill for the operation. Others said it was just good news that they were all found safe.

The question has been raised before, should those who seemingly “waste” search and rescue services be made to pay?

Many a walker in Tasmania has had to be rescued by the Westpac chopper, because they have been caught out unprepared and ill-equipped.

We expect our search and rescue personnel and volunteers to be ready to save us when we need them, but are we taking on enough responsibility ourselves?