One of the proudest moments of Jeff Shelton's life can be attributed to his work with Marine Rescue Port Macquarie.
The rescue veteran of more than 30 years led the search for three fisherman capsized on a fishing boat in 2009.
"We found three missing fisherman 25 nautical miles offshore at nine o'clock at night. Some of the jobs where we've saved people, it sticks in your mind, " he said.
Stories such as this filled the room on Wednesday night as the local Marine Rescue unit celebrated 50 years with a function at the Westport Club.
Delayed for two years because of COVID interruptions, 130 guests reminisced about the five decade journey from humble beginnings in 1971 to one of the busiest units on the Mid North Coast.
With 234 volunteers, Marine Rescue Port Macquarie Unit Commander Greg Davies said his team are a vital part of the community.
"It's great to be a part of this organisation, the history that we have is just brilliant," he said.
"To be in a position that I am with such great members underneath me at the moment - my life is easy.
"We've got the founding members here tonight and we really should recognise what they've done to start this unit."
One of the founding members, Bruce Robson remembers what it was like in the early days.
"There was only 12 members in the group and now we're looking at a few hundred," he said.
"We had very much smaller boats and a lot less resources than there are now - it's rather amazing how much its grown."
After starting out as Sea Rescue Port Macquarie, equipped with a solitary Smiths jet boat, the fleet has grown to five vessels including a new 6.1 metre multi-purpose craft that can be deployed state-wide to assist with flood emergencies.
The unit has completed more than 4,000 rescues including 733 since 2015. 342 of those were emergencies, returning 1,529 people back to shore.
Coming into peak season, Marine Rescue NSW Commissioner Alex Barrell reminded boaties of how they can help.
"It's extremely important particularly now as we're going into summer which is traditionally our bigger months the difference between logging on and not logging on can come down to minutes in terms of a rescue," he said.
"It's important that you be prepared before you head out in the water and that can be as simple as checking the weather conditions and making sure that you've got the right safety equipment."
The night featured key speakers covering three eras and highlighted a six-hour rescue operation where three seriously injured people were saved from a sinking vessel off Port Macquarie in April 2019.
Those involved in the rescue were honoured with an International Maritime Rescue Federation Award in London and a Professional Commendation at the 2019 Australian Search and Rescue Awards.
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