The speaker for our July monthly meeting was Colin Brown from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Having been married for 50 years to a sailor from Appledore in North Devon who was a lifeboat crew member, and having owned a boat until last year, this was a subject close to my heart.
The RNLI was founded in 1824 by Sir William Hillary, himself a lifeboat man based in the Isle of Man, where at the time there were 15 shipwrecks a week. Originally called the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, it was renamed in 1854 when it became the RNLI under the patronage of George IV, with the Royal Charter given in 1860.
At least 97% of the RNLI team are volunteers. This is a charity that is self-funding and does not want government help. It is supported mainly by legacies (65%) and donations (28%) with other activities bringing in 7%.
The RNLI is renowned for saving lives at sea, and its lifeboat volunteers need to live or work within 10 minutes of a lifeboat station. Cover is provided by 238 lifeboat stations all around the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands, manned 24 hours every day. A call from the coastguard to the lifeboat station can mean the lifeboat is at sea and up to 10 miles offshore within 30 minutes of the alarm being activated.
Colin explained that while this is the charity’s main activity, the RNLI has many more functions, such as protecting 250 beaches, where RNLI volunteers guard against accidents and drownings. Up to 190 people are drowned off our coasts each year and many of the people being rescued have no intention of being in the water in the first place.
The RNLI now realises that education of the dangers of the sea, and what to do if you are in trouble, is the best way of tackling this problem. Many people end up being cut off by the tide as they have no knowledge of tides.
Rescuing dogs is also another occupation. There were 75 last year, most of whom would have been OK on their own, but very often the owner tries to save them and ends up in trouble while the dog has made it safely to the shore!
People also get stuck in mud in river estuaries such as the Thames, and there is now a dedicated station called Thames Service which was brought into force after the tragedy of the Marchioness in 2001. This is now probably the RNLI’s busiest station.
Many people, especially paddle boarders and the like, go to sea without adequate safety equipment and no means of communication. It is important that people are educated in this respect.
Poole is the headquarters of the RNLI, where there is a memorial to over 800 lifeboat volunteers who sacrificed their lives to save others. This includes 438 lifeboat crew to date. The worst tragedy being the loss of the Penlee lifeboat and crew in 1981.
The are currently 449 lifeboats of various types stationed all round the UK. Details of which can be seen on the RNLI website.
Our u3a has visited the RNLI headquarters at Poole. It was a super visit and worthy of another one.