Families, friends, and special guests gathered in Yellowknife’s Old Town on Tuesday for the commissioning ceremony of a new search and rescue vessel.
The ship, Rescue 797, is the product of funding from the federal Indigenous Community Boats Program, the Yellowknife Marine Rescue Society, and community sponsors.
It will be operated by the Yellowknife Marine Rescue Unit, a volunteer-run unit of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary that covers the northern half of Great Slave Lake.
Brian McShane, who leads Yellowknife Marine Rescue, said the federal program had now funding more than a dozen boats in the Arctic.
McShane added, however, that the project was “made possible” by the support of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation, and City of Yellowknife.
Neil O’Rourke, the Canadian Coast Guard’s assistant commissioner for the Arctic, said: “We’ve all benefited greatly from feedback and partnerships with both the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation, incorporating traditional knowledge into the search and rescue system.
“Understanding things like locations of hunting cabins and fishing grounds, along with sensitive areas, are all things that we continue to see benefits from to this day.”
Three members of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation drummed at the ceremony and offered a blessing for the new vessel. The process of designing and building the ship, which is engineered specifically for the North, began in 2018.
“Unfortunately, Covid-19 hasn’t been a friend of the building process. But here we are, three years later,” McShane said.
“We’ve had a lot more medical-type calls over the last years, a lot of them being hypothermia,” McShane said. “This new boat actually has a cabin. It has a heater inside, it actually has proper seating, and we’re going to be able to go farther.
“We call it a floating gas station.”
Alison Gillis, Yellowknife Marine Rescue’s deputy unit leader, said Rescue 797 is “a bigger vessel and can go longer distances and get there faster than some of the other, smaller vessels.”
“It’s also covered, so it’s good for all kinds of weather,” Gillis said.
Joel Gowman, a watch leader for the unit, said the ship was “not your traditional cabin boat” as he gave a tour.
“On the upper corners of the forward-facing parts of the cabin, we’ve got fairly large windows,” said Gowman. “When we’re doing more high-speed manoeuvres and the boat banks to one side or another, our boat crew can actually view the horizon and the upcoming water through those higher windows.”
Gowman said the ship’s communication system allows crew members to speak to one another through Bluetooth. This means they can communicate from inside the boat to crew members that may be in the water or on the back of the boat.
While Rescue 797 is the only vessel of its kind in Yellowknife, McShane said a unit in Quebec is now building a ship of similar design.
Meanwhile, the Yellowknife unit is expecting a further $127,000 in funding to pay for new engines and additional crew communications equipment.