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story of basra

The Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association is a dedicated non-profit voluntary organization committed to saving the lives of distressed seamen or airmen in the Bahamas. BASRA has one full time administrator Monday thru Fridays 0900 to 1700 who, in addition to administrative duties monitors the radios, and a Controller who monitors the radios at headquarters on weekends. Volunteer Control Teams continue coverage through the Police Control room in the evenings with volunteer Captains and Crews on duty at all times. Control Officer courses are generally held every two years and the Fleet Captain ensures that vessels are maintained and the Captains are trained.

Before BASRA came into effect, there was no formal rescue organization in the Bahamas. In 1958 Bobby Symonette, Speaker of the House of Assembly, had Parliament create the Air Sea Rescue Board in the Ministry of Transport. Sir Durward Knowles, a Harbour Pilot, was appointed to run the Board. In the early 60's distress cases escalated particularly among visiting yachtsmen. There were times when neither Pilot Knowles nor the Yacht Haven Charter fishing fleet (which handled the bulk of the rescues) were available.

In May 1963 , Outboard Marine International, as part of its public relations programme gave a safe boating course. The course instructor was Ben Astarita. After the course the instructor helped Durward Knowles form a volunteer group of boats and planes and establish a radio base. 100 volunteers were recruited from 200 attendees at the Boating Course. Durward Knowles was made Director and Ben Astarita became an executive and Control Officer. A radio was put in Ben's apartment where it was operated many times by Ben's wife Helen. This outfit was called Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Auxiliary. At that time, Government paid the auxiliary's boat and plane expenses which ranged from $15,000 to $20,000 per annum.

In 1964/65 the auxiliary had 3 Duty Teams, 30 volunteer boats, 7 volunteer aircraft and a dive unit. It averaged about 12 cases per year. In 1998 there are 6 Duty Teams, BASRA has its own fleet and there are branches in Grand Bahama and Abaco along with many volunteers throughout the Bahamas.

The United States Coast Guard proved to be the Auxiliary's greatest ally. The USCG sent an Officer to Nassau to give Ben Astarita a crash course in Search & Rescue, along with rescue manuals, etc. The Officer stayed during our teething stage until we were better organised.. In our early days most of the distress calls came through the Telecommunications Marine Operators. A great boom to the organization was the establishment of an answering service at the Police Headquarters radio room. Rescue calls for instance, were passed on to the Control Officer on duty. As time passed, Government gave the Auxiliary a lease of the old Pan American ramp area. The drive for funds to build a BASRA headquarters was kicked off by "Uncle" Bo Burns, a visiting Yachtsman. The public gave generously and the new building was opened by Prime Minister, Sir Lynden Pindling on May 5th,1970.

The 18ft. Evinrude boat given to us by Outboard Marine International was replaced by a 17ft. Boston Whaler donated by Maura's. That in turn was succeeded by a 31ft Bertram donated by the combined Rotary Clubs of Nassau. In 1970 the Auxiliary was incorporated and the name was changed to Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association.

BASRA continued to help people in distress and several Family Islands became BASRA stations. Eventually BASRA Freeport became self sufficient. During the early 1970's BASRA received a 16ft. Inflatable Avon as an inshore vessel. This boat became Captain John Fisk's pride and joy and he looked after it like his child. We also had a major fund raising drive headed by Russell Cairns for updated communications equipment and many friends donated to this cause.

In 1983 BASRA received a donation of a 17ft. Aluminium Monark Boat as an inshore rescue boat from the American Embassy, Nassau.

In 1985, BASRA purchased a 38ft. self righting Lochin Rescue vessel built in England. This vessel was shipped to Nassau on a British Navy Supply Ship the "Black Rover" kindness of the British High Commissioner. This vessel was named the " Lady Pearl " after long time Controller Pearl Waton. BASRA's faithful friends gave many donations to help pay for this vessel. As a result of this support received from the public, the "Lady Pearl" was paid for within two years of being put into service on May 17th, 1985.

In mid 1989 BASRA placed an order for a 25ft. Boston Whaler Sentry. This boat cost approximately $60,000 and began operation in December. The Sentry was named "Uncle Ben" after one of the founders and Commodore for Life, Ben Astarita . Thanks to the government we received duty exemptions on both the Lochin & Sentry. BASRA was also able to install repeater stations in several Family Islands thanks to SEARCH and recently installed a new tower at H.Q. thanks to a generous donation from the Bahamas Billfish Championship Committee. In 1997 Ben Astarita passed away and an "Uncle Ben Award Fund" was started to train youths in boat safety & seamanship. BASRA also were donated a 14ft. rigid inflatable which was dedicated for youth training.

The Air Pilots of the Nassau Flying Club act as our Air Wing and many persons in the family islands monitor the VHF for BASRA. The Royal Bahamas Police Force and their Radio room are still covering our answering service. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the DEA, Autec and the United States Coast Guard are still helping BASRA with air and boat searches, etc.

We take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of the above , and the many other donors and supporters who are too numerous to mention. BASRA is also indebted to the late Sir Gerald Cash, who served as our patron for over 20 years. Last but by no means least, many thanks to all those Control Officers, Boat Captains and Crews who volunteer for BASRA. In a typical year, BASRA handles over 500 cases and has annual operating expenses of more than $125,000.00.

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