An off-duty police officer who helped two children and their mum when they were washed off rocks at Boat Harbour on Saturday says the situation could have been dire if an "angel ring" had not been replaced recently after it was missing for six months.
Sergeant Andrew Parker and a local fisherman, Michael Pascoe, have been praised for their bravery after rescuing the children, aged 8 and 15, and their mother, 44, in treacherous conditions.
Mr Parker, 41, was at home working on his roof on Saturday when his daughter Andie, 11, pointed out the swimmers in trouble nearby.
A part-time lifeguard, Mr Parker downed tools, shot down the ladder and raced across the street with his rescue board. As he ran across the road "kicking off his shoes", Mr Parker said he could see "heads bobbing" about 100 metres out from shore. He launched into the water and watched as the family, "luckily", were washed away from the rocks.
"That was my biggest fear, that they were going to get to the rocks and get separated and get lost," he recalled.
"Thankfully, someone had thrown in an angel ring.
"These people, the only reason they were still together, is they were all on separate sides of this angel ring.
"It was just enough to keep them all in the one spot until I could get there and get them holding onto the board."
Mr Parker and the family drifted about "300 to 400 metres" away from the headland, a popular whale-watching spot, before Mr Pascoe, who had been waved in by bystanders, came to their aid in his small fishing boat.
"We'd moved a lot, there was a lot of water movement," Mr Parker said.
The family, who were visiting from Kansas, were left with no major injuries.
They had been swimming in a relatively calm rock pool, but Mr Parker said some large and unpredictable waves had washed them out.
He said the incident could have been a lot different had it not been for the life ring.
The device had been missing for "six to seven months" until recently after getting stolen last year. Mr Parker was not sure who placed the life ring there initially, but said an "elderly couple who walk their dog" had "financed and sourced another one about a month ago".
"The main thing about the angel ring, it kept the three of them together and it gave me a good target," he said.
"If I had to find separated people, it would have been so hard. To get them all back in one place, and all hanging onto the rescue board, would have been near impossible."
Mr Parker hopes the incident can remind people the life rings are a "life-saving device" and not an item "for the bar or a pool room or something like that".
"If that was missing, I really don't know how I would have gathered the three up together," he said.
Acting Inspector Christine McDonald praised the efforts of those involved in the family's rescue.
"The heroic efforts of Sergeant Parker and Mr Pascoe in rescuing these three people in dangerous surf conditions should be commended," she said.
"If not for the quick-thinking and courageous response from these men, the outcome could have been tragic for these three swimmers."