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Canadian Safe Boating Council

Rescue of the Year - 2011

CASBA 2011 Award Winner: The Hamilton Policy Marine Unit

- Rescue of the Year -  

The sometimes treacherous waters of Lake Ontario might well have claimed the lives of several boaters on April 28, 2011, had it not been for the efforts of Matt Allcroft, Tom Bennett, Marty Bushell, James Suthery, and Ian Woodhouse – all members of the Hamilton Police Marine Unit.

There were several factors working against the nine fortunate souls ultimately pulled from Lake Ontario. Gale force winds sustained at some 130 km an hour were generating five-metre waves in the lake, and between two- and 2.5-metre waves in the area of the incident itself – Hamilton Harbour. The water temperature was a frigid 4?C, and the victims, in addition to not wearing lifejackets, had been in the water for some 20 minutes before being pulled to safety.

Some 160 members of the Leander Rowing Club, of varying levels of experience, hit the water at 5:30 a.m. for rowing practice in 22 rowing shells, accompanied by four 12-foot aluminum motorized safety boats. None of the students was wearing a personal flotation device. Some time after rowing practice began, nine found themselves in the water, clinging to broken pieces of a racing shell, while others struggled to get their vessels back to shore.

The call came in to the Hamilton Police Service at 7:20 a.m. Officers Woodhouse, Allcroft and Suthery deployed the Alliance, while Officers Bennett and Bushell headed out in the RCMP’s rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) Hurricane. The Marine Unit of the Halton Police Service assisted in the rescue effort with two additional vessels, although one was forced to return to base, because weather conditions exceeded its operating limitations.

Rescuers found two capsized racing shells – one snapped in two. Four young males and an adult were clinging to the broken shell. Because the victims had by now lost their fine motor skills due to hypothermia, Officers Allcroft and Woodhouse aboard the Alliance donned their immersion suits, and prepared to enter the water to retrieve the victims. But sea conditions were such that pilot Officer Suthery worried his vessel would crush the victims. So RHIB pilot Officer Bennett and his colleague Officer Bushell approached instead, pulling all five from the water. They were immediately transported to shore, met by Emergency Medical Services, and taken to McMaster University Medical Centre, where they were treated for hypothermia.

Officers on the Alliance rescued a lone female that had fallen overboard one of the coach boats. They also located two of the four 12-foot aluminum boats aground at Willow Point, and four people safe on shore. Hamilton Police Service Dispatch contacted the Burlington Fire Department, which sent assistance to the stranded.

Assisted by Canadian Coast Guard cutter Isle Rouge, the Hamilton and Halton Marine Units conducted a complete search of Hamilton Harbour until the remaining rowing club members were accounted for.


“Hamilton Police rescued nine students in the Hamilton Harbour”