RNLI’s first hovercraft commander today makes his final journey

Lifeboats News Release

The RNLI’s thoughts and prayers are with the family of the late Harry Roberts (MBE) the RNLI’s first volunteer hovercraft commander, who will be laid to rest this morning. Harry sadly passed away at the age of 62.

Harry Roberts MBE, the RNLI’s first hovercraft commander

RNLI/Morecambe

Harry Roberts MBE

The RNLI hovercraft which was such a big part of Harry’s life will escort the funeral procession, as he makes his final journey down the promenade. Current and retired RNLI crew will be joined by Coastguard colleagues in lining the promenade with heads bowed to remember all Harry has given to the RNLI.

The flag of Morecambe RNLI Lifeboat Station will fly at half mast to remember Harry and both RNLI shops will be closed as a mark of respect to the RNLI stalwart, who died earlier this month after a five-year battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Former Morecambe RNLI volunteer and current Blackpool RNLI volunteer Reverend Adrian Wolton will officiate at Harry’s funeral.

Harry joined the RNLI as a volunteer lifeboat crew in 1986 as a crew and worked his way up the ranks to become senior helmsman.

In 2002 the RNLI introduced the inshore rescue hovercraft to their fleet. Harry was involved in the initial building of the Griffon Hovercraft and the trials within Morecambe Bay. He went on to become the first volunteer hovercraft commander for the RNLI, then senior hovercraft commander at the station for several years.

Harry was commander of the hovercraft the night of the Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy, which saw him flying the hovercraft for 22 hours. He was awarded an MBE in 2008 by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to maritime safety.

In 2018 Harry retired from his senior hovercraft commander role due to ill health. He then moved into the role of Deputy Launch Authority. Harry also retired from his role as station mechanic, a role he has held at the station since 1993. Previously D-Class mechanic and since 2002 the hovercraft mechanic, this saw him look after the maintenance of the 'Hurley Flyer' and her transporter 'Spirit of Morecambe'.

Morecambe RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager Steve Wilson said:

‘Harry was the driving force in Morecambe RNLI and will be sadly missed. The flag of Morecambe RNLI will fly at half-mast today and as many crew as Covid restrictions permit will attend his funeral. As everyone will not be able to attend, respects will be paid in a number of ways as Harry makes his final journey passed the station, which will be a poignant moment.’

Harry was married to Gill, and the pair would have celebrated 30 years of marriage on April 15. He also leaves two children, Hayley and Daniel, from a first marriage and Amy, his daughter with Gill. He also has a granddaughter, Esmae. Harry's family said:

‘We would like to thank everybody for their kind messages. We are all very proud of everything Harry achieved. People always called him a hero, which he never saw himself as. But we all agree, he was a hero, our hero.

‘We are so touched the RNLI will feature so prominently as his funeral – he would have loved that.’

Harry Roberts MBE, the RNLI’s first hovercraft commander

Family photo

Harry Roberts MBE, Morecambe RNLI

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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.

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