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The spooky, the strange and the unexplained

For hundreds of years, the sea has been a source of many haunted tales and legends – and a few even involve lifeboat stations. Here are a few eerie stories: 

The performers of Cromer Pier

Cromer Pier, surrounded by crashing waves and a dark sky

Photo: RNLI/Charis Walker

Cromer Lifeboat Station lives at the end of Cromer Pier – along with rumoured ghosts, too

Cromer Pier in Norfolk was originally built in the 1300s – but has been rebuilt several times after being destroyed in terrible storms. If you take a walk down the pier today, you’ll find the Pavilion Theatre – a well-known spot for ghosts. Some even claim to have seen spirits dancing on stage beside the real-life performers! Just behind the theatre is Cromer Lifeboat Station, also tainted with supernatural tales. Many believe that lifeboat crews of the past, and old sailors lost at sea, still visit the station today.

Panic at Portrush 

Seven volunteers from Portrush RNLI, wearing all-weather lifeboat kit, stand on top of the rocks at the Giant’s Causeway

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

The lifeboat volunteers of Portrush RNLI

Two crew members at Portrush RNLI had a first-hand ghostly experience. They were looking for something in the storeroom of the lifeboat station, while the other lifeboat volunteers were heading home. Suddenly, they heard an eerie noise coming from the crew room that sounded like a man crying. One of them went to investigate – but as soon as they turned the door handle, the noise stopped. The other crew member was said to be frozen in terror for hours afterwards! 

An electrifying encounter at Littlestone

Littlestone-on-Sea Lifeboat Station and RNLI Shop  a grey bricked building with a large red station door

Photo: RNLI

Littlestone-on-Sea Lifeboat Station is said to come alive at night

There’s more to Littlestone-on-Sea Lifeboat Station than meets the eye. One evening, a volunteer was locking up the station, turning all the lights off as usual. He was walking to his car when he suddenly noticed the lights in the upstairs room had come back on. Confused, he went back inside, turned them off and left – but it happened again. 

A few weeks later, he was standing outside the station telling another crew member about the strange story – when, spookily, the upstairs lights flicked on once more. 

Fearing the unknown

Despite the unexplained mysteries some crews have experienced on station or at sea, there’s one real fear that binds us as a lifesaving family. It’s the thought (and sometimes the reality) of being alone, terrified in the water, in urgent need of help. 

The sea can be unpredictable, and even the most experienced people can get caught out. But seeing an orange lifeboat coming into view brings comfort and assurance to so many, like it always has for almost 200 years. And, with your kind support, it always will.

An RNLI crew member looks out to sea from their all-weather lifeboat

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Seeing an orange lifeboat coming into view has brought comfort and assurance to so many people

‘A small orange lifeboat is the resolve to my nightmares’

Ten years ago, in 2002, one supporter wrote to us to share how the RNLI shone light onto her darkest fears:

‘Thanks to the RNLI, there is to be a lifeboat permanently stationed at Gravesend, London. I was born there in 1919 and my father travelled every day by the Gravesend Tilbury ferry to work at the docks.'

‘There were many thick fogs and times when the ferry could not sail. On those days, I was told my father had to cross the river in a small boat – and it was said that if anyone fell into the Thames they would never be seen again. My mother was not a great communicator, and all I knew as a small child was an atmosphere of silent anxiety in the home on foggy days.

‘To this day, I believe this anxiety has haunted me – bringing nightmares of silent nothingness for which I could not account. But, hopefully, now I can resolve these nightmares with the image of a small orange lifeboat speeding to someone in need of help. Thank you RNLI – for one more rescue.’ 

No one deserves to feel afraid at the water – every one is worth saving. We’re here to help, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So if you find yourself in trouble, or see someone struggling, dial 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard. And give yourself the best possible chance to keep safe by visiting an RNLI lifeguarded beach, and remembering to float to live.