Saving lives makes training worth it

Rob Bates' jetski cuts a path through the ruthless late afternoon swell as a frantic toddler clings to her grandmother.

The tiny inflatable boat the pair sit in is swallowed then regurgitated by the volatile current that runs along the Penguin Island sandbar, south of Perth.

Outside the boat, the child's grandfather and parents have lost their foothold attempting to pull the craft to shore. By the time Mr Bates arrives, the adults in the water are exhausted and all five lives are in jeopardy.

"People have drowned crossing the sandbar and you could see the panic in their faces, in their eyes," the Secret Harbour Surf Life Saving Club patrol captain said. "The elderly gentleman had slipped under the boat and the little girl was just hanging on for dear life."

Mr Bates said the dramatic rescue off Shoalwater in March was just one of many in a busy season for which he was named WA surf lifesaver of the year at the weekend. The father of two has seen a lot during his five years in the red and yellow togs.

"I don't know if I've been lucky or unlucky but I've probably seen a bit more carnage than some, dragging people out of the water grey and with very serious spinal injuries," he said.

"But when you hear that they walked out of hospital weeks later, you know all the training has been worth it."

Secret Harbour also won club of the year and patrol club of the year sections.

The West Australian

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