Penarth lifeboat volunteer celebrates 40 years of service
A Penarth lifeboat volunteer is this month being recognised for 40 years of service to the RNLI.
Mike Kingston celebrates his 40 year as a voluntary operational member of Penarth RNLI in the very same year that Penarth lifeboat station marks its own 40 birthday. He’s received a long service medal to recognise his achievement.
Mike, who is married and has two children and two grandchildren, joined Penarth RNLI on 17 November 1980, as a volunteer crew member and quickly progressed to become lifeboat helm. Along with his fellow volunteer crew members, he attended hundreds of incidents, launching day and night in all kinds of weather conditions, to go to the aid of people in trouble at sea. Since his retirement from being a sea-going member of the team, Mike has spent the last 17 years as shore crew and one of Penarth’s Deputy Launching Authorities, liaising with the Coastguard when they request assistance, and managing the lifeboat’s launch.
Mike’s lifeboat career has extended beyond the UK. In 2000, he was a member of a crew of just eight lifeboat volunteers from across the UK who flew out to aid the relief effort in flood stricken Mozambique. Together, the team faced the dangers of crocodiles, hippos, poisonous snakes and anti-personnel mines, navigating rivers that had burst their banks, in a rescue mission to bring desperately needed medical relief to 10,000 people in villages marooned by flood waters.
‘We had five small D class inflatable lifeboats, and had to ferry doctors and medical supplies to areas that had been written off as impossible, as helicopters couldn’t land there and they were inaccessible by road’, said Mike.
‘It was so hot that the soles of my boots melted. We had to spend the night on sandbars where we took turns to keep watch, as the crocodiles were very keen to join us’, he added.
Since he joined the crew, Mike has combined his volunteering with his ‘paid job’ in the South Wales Fire and Rescue service. He joined the Service back in 1977, at the tender age of just 19, and progressed from his position as a firefighter, to the lead instructor for recruit training, finally finishing his career in 2011 as Chair of the Water Rescue group, and a member of the Service’s all Wales flood response team.
Mike used his combined roles in both services, to instigate the first ever UK partnership between the RNLI and a national fire service, which led to both organisations combining their training, and saving hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Mike used the experience and expertise he gained on the water over the years, to become a Advanced powerboat instructor, and gained an RYA Yachtmaster qualification to improve his yacht sailing skills.
Over the past four decades, 62 year old Mike has seen huge changes in the way the RNLI operates. He has seen Penarth lifeboat station move from its original home in the deck chair store underneath the current Coffi Co building on the esplanade, to its current location just up the road in a purpose built, modern lifeboat station.
‘I’m sure the people of Penarth will remember the hand held maroons that were fired off by a lifeboat crew member to call the rest of us to the station for a launch’, said Mike.
‘But even before that, I remember when the Pier Master would get us down to the station by firing the maroons out of a small cannon. Nowadays, technology has moved on and we use pagers, mobiles phones and computer systems to respond to a shout. These systems are a lot more sophisticated, but it’s still the same feeling when you’re called out of bed in the early hours of a freezing cold January morning’.
Mike continued: ‘No matter how times have moved on, one thing that remains constant is the unbelievable commitment of the whole RNLI team. There have been so many highs and lows over the past 40 years. As all the team will know, it’s good to feel that you’re part of a team, giving something to your community. But there have also been some sad times when people have lost their lives. I’m proud to have been a part of Penarth RNLI family’.
Thanking Mike for his 40 years of service, Jason Dunlop, Penarth Lifeboat Operations Manager said:
‘On behalf of all at Penarth lifeboat station, I would like to congratulate Mike on this fantastic achievement and thank him for his commitment and support to saving lives at sea over the last 40 years. We are all volunteers at Penarth RNLI, we give our time freely to support our local community. Mike’s contribution to the charity over the years has not only been volunteering his time, he’s also been happy to share his wealth of experience with the crew as we train and work together when someone needs our help. He’s been a fantastic mentor to many and for that we thank him.’
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.