BLUFF marine radio operator Meri Leask has been voluntarily helping and answering boaties’ calls for more than 40 years.
But last weekend she had her busiest day since she started the job in 1980.
From her home on Marine Pde in Bluff, Mrs Leask answered 185 calls on Saturday from kayakers, fishers and recreational boaties checking in to inform her about their whereabouts in the waters around the South Island.
“I couldn’t leave my desk, but it doesn’t matter if people were doing the right thing.
“Everybody knows that safety is my priority. I’m on call 24/7 and always contactable.”
Mrs Leask said in a busy day she usually had about 125 calls, but she could not recall another day like Saturday.
“I think it was a combination of factors. The fine weather, people not able to travel because of Covid and the last weekend of holidays made everybody go out into the water – and good on them because it was a really beautiful day.”
Mrs Leask has been a bit of a legend for boaties across the country since she took the voluntary position when the Bluff Coastal Station closed down.
She and her husband, Ian, who died in 2017, had been experienced crayfishers and they decided to take up the challenge as volunteers.
“I don’t go anywhere without a radio and a phone. Definitely not. Because for me, if you take over something you do it properly or you don’t.
“I would hate to think I was out and somebody needed help and I could not help them.”
Since then, her routine has been to be on duty from 7am to 5.30pm daily to do marine forecasts and answer any calls from boaties throughout the day, which she carefully logs in a notebook.
“I have boats all around the country. Mostly around the South Island but I have some boats up North that like to talk to Meri,” she said with a laugh.
“When people get into trouble, to be fair to them, they lose their thinking and get very worried about the situation they are in. It is important to them to know someone is looking after them.”
The position was a mix of passion and duty, she said.
A couple of days previously, she received a phone call from a couple of young men asking if she was planning to retire.
“I replied, ‘not that I’m aware of’ and they said, ‘Thank God for that because we don’t know what we would do without you.’
“I’ve been chosen by the community and I love what I can do for those people – so yeah, I don’t have any plan to stop doing it.”