It is with a heavy heart, but with many happy memories, that last week Dave Corben retired from the RNLI after 50 years as a dedicated volunteer. Dave joined the RNLI at Swanage as a shore helper and all-weather lifeboat crew in 1970.
He first went to sea aboard the 41ft Watson class lifeboat, ‘RLP’, when only the mechanic and radio-operator stood under shelter, with the rest of the crew out on the deck. He continued his training throughout his RNLI voluntary career, becoming an emergency mechanic in 1985 and navigator in 2003.
Through Dave’s long service he has seen three all-weather lifeboats come and go at the station, with the Watson class lifeboat being replaced by the Rother class lifeboat, ‘J. Reginald Corah’ (on service from 1975 to 1992), followed by the Mersey class, ‘Robert Charles Brown’.
Dave served as lifeboat crew for 35 years before retiring from going afloat in 2005 at the age of 55, which at the time was the age at which operational service ended for all-weather lifeboat crew. However, despite having launched hundreds of times and having helped to save many lives at sea during his time as a crew member, Dave missed the sound of the pager and decided to take on the role as a Deputy Launch Authority (DLA). The on duty DLA receives the initial call from HM Coastguard and makes the initial launch request for the crew.
For the last 15 years Dave, as part of a team of DLAs, has overseen the launches of the Swanage lifeboats, and the crew have come to know that when Dave was on duty they would expect a flurry of callouts!
Lifeboat Coxswain Dave Turnbull said ‘Dave is one of very few RNLI volunteers to serve for 50 years. These days life often gets in the way and people’s situations change, in particular with where they work, meaning that it is not always possible to commit as a volunteer for a lifetime as Dave has done. Dave went to sea with my father, Malcolm Turnbull and I am fortunate to have been to sea with Dave many times as fellow crew and to have worked with Dave since I have been Coxswain of the Swanage lifeboat and he has been DLA.
Having a former, long standing, sea going crew member as a DLA has great benefits for the crew, as they have first-hand experience of all aspects of what a rescue may entail. I am very grateful for Dave’s dedication and the wealth of knowledge Dave has accumulated and passed on over the years.’
Although Dave was not from a maritime background, he is from a lifeboat family, with his brother John having served 23 years on the crew, and Dave and John’s father Eddie, who was formerly the Chairman of the Branch and was also a DLA.
Dave served as lifeboat crew in a number of high profile rescues. He was honoured with a Vellum Service Certificate for the rescue to the Ro-Ro ferry ‘Al Kwather’ in severe weather on 29 October 1989 and was awarded a Medal Service Certificate for the rescue of the crew of the yacht ‘Be Happy’ in hurricane force winds on the night of 28 October, 1996.
Recalling some of the ‘Be Happy’ rescue, Dave said: ‘They were 20 miles out into the English Channel in 130-mile per hour winds. The yacht’s engine had failed, its sails had been blown out. The yacht had been knocked down a number of times and was in real danger of capsizing in the 30 ft high waves.
The helicopter could not lift them because their mast was swinging so violently.’
Despite the horrendous conditions that night, the Swanage lifeboat crew successfully rescued the crew aboard the ‘Be Happy’.
In 2016 Dave was presented with the RNLI Gold Badge for long service. It is unusual in today’s world for volunteers to provide such long service as Dave. However, Dave has managed to balance his family life and work, alongside the huge commitment of being a lifeboat crew member. When Dave was present with his Gold Badge, Lifeboat Operations Manager at the time, Captain Neil Hardy, said: ‘Our thanks go to Dave for his many years of service. Volunteering for the RNLI is an extraordinary commitment, being very demanding at times. The time and dedication given by our volunteers is out of choice and only made possible thanks to the support of their families. I’m am proud we have so many volunteers who have continued to serve the Swanage RNLI for such long periods of time.’
Although many in the community know Dave through his involvement with the RNLI, many know him from his day job as an Estate Agent at the well-known, family business, Corbens. For 51 years Dave has worked as an Estate Agent.
Corbens has a long established tradition of supporting members of their team who wish to volunteer for emergency services in the local community. Both Dave and John volunteered for the RNLI and Dave’s son Anthony, follows in his father’s footsteps as volunteer lifeboat crew. John’s son Nick, volunteers for the Fire Brigade, also following in his father’s footsteps. It is thanks to local employers such as Corbens that the RNLI is able to continue to man lifeboats with volunteers.
Dave is never one to shy away from telling stories of his times at sea, with tales of huge rolling seas, tragedy and also some hilarious moments with the crew, but in his parting words to the current crew he simply said ‘It has been an honour and privilege to serve over the last 50 years and I haven't a clue what I am going to do when my pager is taken away!’.
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 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and 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.
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