Rise in Xmas rescues - Welsh RNLI volunteers brace themselves for a busy period
As the festive season approaches, the RNLI in Wales is issuing its own call for help, as new figures show Christmas call outs over the last 40 years have rocketed. Between 1979 – 1989, Welsh volunteers attended an average of four call outs over the Christmas period.
During the last 10 years, the figure has risen by a dramatic 187 per cent, to an average of 11 lifeboat launches between 2009-2018.
The charity is facing a Perfect Storm, with more people drowning and a shortfall in funds, meaning support from the public is more vital than ever.
During the festive period* last year, RNLI volunteers in Wales launched 23 times from the station’s 30 lifeboat stations from Flint to Penarth and assisted 20 people. In 1979, there was only one launch during the same period and one person aided. Last Christmas (2018) also saw a significant rise in incidents compared with the same period in 2017, when there were seven launched and two people aided.
Last year, New Years’ Day saw volunteers from Llandudno and Conwy abandon New celebrations to rescue a dog walker. The lady had become cut off by the tide in failing light and cold conditions and was in danger of being marooned on the sandbank off Llandudno’s west shore. It was also an exceptionally busy time for Penarth RNLI volunteers who were called to fishing vessels on Christmas Eve and then again on New Years’ Eve.
Christmas Day celebrations in 2015 also came to an abrupt halt for volunteers at Fishguard and New Quay who were called to a yacht in difficulty in adverse weather. It was a similar situation in Tenby who launched their all-weather lifeboat the same day following reports of two people cut off by the tide at Pendine Sands.
To ensure the RNLI can continue its lifesaving work this Christmas and into the future, the charity is launching a major fundraising appeal The Perfect Storm with the aim of raising £1.8M and recruiting 12,000 new supporters.
Whilst many families will be thinking about presents, turkey and time with the family, dedicated RNLI volunteers from 238 lifeboat stations across the UK and Ireland will be ensuring their traditional yellow wellies and lifejackets are ready for when the call comes.
For Owain Williams, dad of one and Porthdinllaen’s full-time RNLI Coxswain it will be his first Christmas on call. He and fiancée Luned are already putting contingency plans in place should he need to leave her and daughter Lois to celebrate the day without him. He says:
‘It is quite daunting to think that call could come at any time, whether it’s when Lois is opening her presents or when we’re eating Christmas dinner. Saying that, it’s what we’re trained to do an if someone needs our help, it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, the most important thing is that we’re able to bring people home safely to their families.
‘Christmas is just another day and I have no doubt the volunteer crew will turn out in force should we be called upon. We’ve arranged for Luned’s mum to come up from Swansea to stay with us over Christmas, so if the pager’s go, at least I know they won’t be left on their own. Our families are very understanding and we couldn’t do it without their support.’
The family will be celebrating Lois’ second birthday on 19 December so there will be plenty of presents in the house to keep the toddler occupied if Dad has to dash to the rescue.
It will be a similar picture at St Davids, with new parents and RNLI volunteers Ellen Evans, RNLI crew member and Lifeboat Press Officer and partner Judd Kohler, deputy mechanic already putting plans in place to ensure 11-month old Isla has a special first Christmas.
‘As RNLI volunteers and parents, it takes a fair bit of organising and plans need to be firmly in place all year round, so we can just leave the home in an emergency situation, especially at times like Christmas. We have to think carefully about where we can go for our Christmas dinner, because it can’t be too far from lifeboat station.’
Ellen’s mum and brother will be joining the volunteer couple at their house on Christmas day, as it’s close enough to the St Justinian boathouse should they need to rush to the rescue. Ellen adds:
‘If the call comes in on Christmas day, we’ll decide who goes by flipping a coin. Unless grandma and uncle are in position to babysit Isla and then we’ll both go, although dependant on the weather and the type of shouts often family members are not encouraged to go to sea together.
‘People think it’s quite a commitment but it’s what we’re here to do and we don’t think about it too much. We couldn’t do what we do without the support of the public. The RNLI has experienced a shortfall in funds, but we are rescuing more people than ever before. We are facing the Perfect Storm and are calling on people to make a donation this Christmas to ensure we can continue saving lives at sea.’
As well as RNLI calls increasing during the Christmas period the cause for callouts has shifted for the volunteers heading to sea.
In the early 80’s, nationally statistics show the most common cause of callout was to vessels with machinery failure. Figures have revealed that since 2000 many of those needing help are often just visiting the coast and not out on vessels or watercraft.
Chris Cousens, RNLI Community Safety Partner for Wales says ‘The festive period is no different to any other time of year and we have such dedicated volunteers ready to respond if a call comes in.
‘Around 150 people lose their lives at the UK and Irish Coast each year and over half never even planned to enter the water. As well as slips trips and falls tidal cut offs are also a contributing factor to RNLI call outs.’
The RNLI’s Perfect Storm appeal is being launched in response to some major challenges the charity is facing. In 2018, the RNLI’s financial resources dropped by £28.6M
To support the RNLI’s Perfect Storm appeal this Christmas, helping to ensure the charity’s brave volunteers can continue saving lives at sea, please visit RNLI.org/ThePerfectStorm
*Festive periods calculated from 24 Dec – 1 Jan
Notes to editors
Please feel free to use video footage of a New Year’s Day rescue at Llandudno RNLI: https://rnli.org/news-and-media/2019/january/02/llandudno-inshore-lifeboat-in-new-years-day-lifesaving-rescue
Please find attached jpeg images:
- Owain Williams, Coxswain of Porthdinallen lifeboat, partner Luned and one-year old Lois are putting plans in place for their family Christmas
- New parents and RNLI volunteers Ellen Evans, RNLI crew member and Lifeboat Press Officer and partner Judd Kohler, deputy mechanic already putting plans in place to ensure 11-month old Isla has a special first Christmas.
- Interviews in Welsh and English are available on request.
RNLI media contacts
For more information please telephone Danielle Rush, RNLI Media Relations Manager in Wales on 07786 668829 or Eleri Roberts on 01745 585162. Alternatively contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.
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.