MBE for Aberdeen lifeboatman’s 42 years’ service to Saving Lives at Sea
Bill Deans, lifeboat operations manager at Aberdeen Lifeboat Station, is appointed MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, recognising his 42 years’ service to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Commenting on the award, Bill Deans said: “Whilst I’m honoured to receive the MBE, the lifeboat service isn’t about individuals, it’s about crews. I’ve had the good fortune to serve with outstanding crewmates down the years. None of us could have carried on without the bond which exists within crews, and every life we saved was a crew achievement.”
Bill – a police constable at the time – began volunteering as a crew-member on Aberdeen’s Inshore Lifeboat (ILB) in 1976. The ILB at that time was located at Pocra Quay, separate from the city’s All-weather Lifeboat (ALB) base at Waterloo Quay. When the stations merged at Waterloo Quay in 1985, Bill joined the ALB crew also. A qualified First Aider throughout his service, Bill served as Emergency Motor Mechanic 1988-2007, ILB Mechanic from 2002-2007, was appointed 2nd Coxswain 1994-2007 and, on his retirement from the Police in 2002, took up an RNLI staff appointment as Divisional Trainer/Assessor in which role he supported RNLI crews in Scotland and Ireland for 15 years.
A veteran of more than 634 rescues, Bill retired from active crew service at the age of 60 in 2010, in line with RNLI policy. He immediately began volunteering as a Deputy Launching Authority before, in 2015, being invited to take up his present role as Lifeboat Operations Manager at Aberdeen Lifeboat Station.
Bill was born in Aberdeen but it was his mother’s family roots in Stronsay, Orkney, which inspired his interest in the RNLI. He now lives in Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire with his wife, Pat; the couple have two grown-up children and two grand-children.
Paying her own tribute to Mr Deans, Dr Margaret Farquhar CBE, former Lord Provost of Aberdeen and chair of the Aberdeen Branch of the RNLI, says: “Bill Deans has led, trained and inspired generations of lifeboat crews, not just in Aberdeen but across Scotland and Ireland. His many friends in the RNLI will be delighted to see his 42 years’ service recognised through his appointment as MBE.”
Davie Orr, coxswain of Aberdeen Lifeboat added: “Bill is a legend throughout the Scottish RNLI community - the epitome of a traditional lifeboatman. He is part of the fabric at Aberdeen Lifeboat Station, involved in daily operations and training. We are all tremendously proud of this fantastic, meritorious award. From the crew and I, a sincere thank you and congratulations.”
First ‘shout’ was lifeboatman Bill’s most unusual
Bill Deans’ 634 rescues spanning his 42 years of RNLI service have included many in which vessels were taken under tow. But Bill’s first ‘shout’ on Aberdeen’s all-weather lifeboat (ALB) was also his most unusual.
A Sikorsky S61N helicopter flying in from a North Sea oil platform on 31 July 1980 made a precautionary landing on the water some 20 nautical miles east of Aberdeen, after cockpit warnings of an overheating gearbox.
Bill was a crewmember on board Aberdeen’s Arun-class ALB as she set off on a one-hour dash to assist the helicopter, which was by now being circled by an RAF Shackleton whose crew were co-ordinating the search and rescue helicopters also en route.
“Visibility was dreadful and there was a wallowing swell” says Bill. “We crept in through the fog and I was amazed to find the helicopter floating upright, just as it was designed to.”
The helicopter’s 2 crew and 13 passengers evacuated to life rafts, transferred to the Aberdeen lifeboat and were winched off to fly back to Aberdeen. A helicopter engineer was winched down to the lifeboat to assist in the recovery of the aircraft.
“We deployed our small inflatable Y-boat, and took the engineer across to the chopper” Bill continues. “We recovered the helicopter door, which had been jettisoned as part of the ditching procedure, and the engineer re-fitted it to prevent the aircraft from sinking as we towed her in.
“It was a long tow back – about 7 hours as I recall – but all ended well. In fact, I believe the helicopter was back flying about 3 weeks later! It’s strange that my first ALB shout should have been such a unique affair,” says Bill
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.