Loch Ness lifeboat helm returns after exchange with Icelandic Lifeboat Service
Howie Whyte, 51, an experienced RNLI lifeboat helm from Loch Ness Lifeboat Station has returned to Drumnadrochit after taking part in an exchange programme with the Icelandic Lifeboat Service – Howie describes his involvement as ‘The best experience of my life’.
RNLI Loch Ness Lifeboat volunteer crew member, Howie, spoke to fellow crew members back at home base on Loch Ness this week after a memorable exchange visit to Iceland.
The European Lifeboat Crew Exchange, now in its fifth year, is set up by the International Maritime Rescue Federation and this year was hosted by the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue. Rescue crew from across Europe came together to exchange practical lifesaving experience and acquire new skills, as well as picking up new ideas from their Icelandic colleagues.
"Each year a new group of lifeboat crew members are able to interact and gain practical experience in waters and situations that are often unfamiliar. They come away after an intensive week with a wider knowledge and ideas and solutions that can be applied back home," says Bruce Reid, IMRF CEO.
Howie has been a volunteer crew member at the RNLI Loch Ness Lifeboat since 2008 and has completed rigorous training in all aspects of RNLI lifeboat operations, flood rescue and casualty care. His place in this year’s exchange was the result of a lengthy selection process, in which 50 fellow UK and Ireland RNLI volunteers competed for a single place.
He was joined in the cold waters around Iceland by rescue crews from Norway, Finland, France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden for an intensive and challenging week of training and search and rescue exercises.
Howie told his colleagues at the RNLI Loch Ness Lifeboat Station about his experience of being alone in the icy water in a Force 7 gale while taking part in a night-time helicopter rescue in the cold waters off Iceland. Howie explained how he felt that all his RNLI training had brought him to that point and equipped him well for the challenging moments with the Icelandic emergency services.
Iceland has 99 lifeboat stations, some equipped with climbing walls, and training facilities on land and sea are used by lifeboat and search and rescue volunteers. In Iceland, rescue services combine and offer training and encouragement to every young person from the age of 14, enabling youngsters to try out and gain experience in the many different disciplines involved in Iceland’s busy rescue services.
Ewan Cameron, Loch Ness Lifeboat Operations Manager said: ‘We are a tight-knit team here at Loch Ness Lifeboat Station and what benefits one will benefit us all. Howie is keen that there should be a lasting legacy from this exchange and we look forward to further communication and collaboration with our colleagues in Iceland.’
- Howie in his RNLI kit during a training exercise in Iceland (credit Omar Orn Sigmundsson)
- Howie, far right, at the helm during an RNLI flood rescue training exercise (credit Ian Brandreth)
- Howie taking a leading role during a casualty care exercise in Iceland (credit Sigurjón Sveinsson)
- Howie (third from the right) and some of the other European lifeboat crew members who took part in the exchange (credit Sigurjón Sveinsson)
- Howie at the helm of the Loch Ness lifeboat (credit RNLI/Loch Ness)
- Howie back at the Loch Ness Lifeboat Station sharing his experiences with his crew mates (credit Joanna Stebbings)
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Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.