Fraserburgh Volunteer Graeme Duthie’s 20 years RNLI Long Service recognised

Lifeboats News Release

Fraserburgh Lifeboat Volunteer, 2nd Coxswain and Navigator Graeme Duthie recently received a long service medal after completing 20 years service with the RNLI – the charity which saves lives at sea.

RNLI/Billy Watson

Graeme Duthie with 20 years long service medal

Graeme, a Lecturer in Nautical Studies at the Scottish Maritime Academy in Peterhead has been associated with the sea since he was a young boy and looked back on his career with the lifeboat.

As a youngster growing up in Fraserburgh he was always down the harbour and in and out of boats helping his dad.

On leaving the school Graeme served his apprenticeship with local firm Piries where he worked on a lot of fishing boats and after he served his time there he went to the fishing himself.

It was when he was at the fishing that Graeme first began to think about joining the lifeboat. Back then however the trips he was working on rotation meant he didn’t have much time at home. He’d be away for ten days, then two nights at home, and then away again for ten days and this didn’t leave much time to commit to the lifeboat, or for anything else.

“Sometimes when steaming home in poor weather” Graeme said “I’d think to myself that it was fine to know that if something goes wrong with this boat that there was a group of men onshore who were willing to drop whatever they were doing and ready to go to sea and come and help you.”

He used to think that if he ever stopped the fishing then he was going to see about joining the lifeboat and kind of pay back, or return the favour as it were.

Eventually when he did come ashore for a while Graeme took his chance to join the lifeboat.

Initially his wife wasn’t keen but relented after a while when her brother started the sea.

At the Lifeboat Open Day which was held in the fish market in 1999 he made enquiries about joining and was told to come down to the station some night, there was always some one there.

“I had been told to watch out for the late Charlie Duthie, the Lifeboat Operations Manager at the time because if he didn’t like you, you wouldn’t get a start.” Graeme recalled

As luck would have it Charlie was the first person he saw when he went down to the station to enquire about joining.

However he had nothing to worry about as Charlie knew his family and was impressed with Graeme’s range of fishing related tickets and certificates. Graeme never had any trouble with Charlie after that and always got on fine with him.

By then Graeme was working on the stand by boats and as he says “I was doing a lot of training for something you hope never happens in my day job and there’s more chance of me putting all this training to use in the lifeboat”

So he joined the lifeboat as a probationer

Despite all Graeme’s background, training and experience at sea he was a probationer for a whole year before he got a pager.

This was back in the days before the RNLI introduced Competency Based Training.

A year after first joining he was sitting in the house and heard a knock on the door and here was the then Coxswain Albert Sutherland with his pager.

“I’ve had a word with the lads,” said Albert, “and they are all happy to go to sea with you. Here’s your pager”

And that was it. That was Graeme officially on the crew and over the last twenty years he has taken part in all kinds of exercises, shouts, searches and rescues.

Graeme became a second coxswain around the time when Albert retired and Alan Smith became the full time coxswain. The second coxswain’s role is to stand in and give the full time coxswain cover for weekends off and holidays.

“When I first covered for the full time coxswain, I did it for two years before I got a shout” he laughed “It became a bit of a running joke. The crew would ask “Who’s on cover this weekend? – Its Graeme! _Oh well, we can relax this weekend, nothing’s going to happen. They were joking of course.”

“And then two shouts happened at once. That was my duck broken, but that’s often what happens. Sometimes you don’t get anything for ages and then you get a run of shouts coming close together.”

You’ve always got to be ready, because you’re never sure when the pagers are about to go off.

Every shout is different and after all these years its sometimes difficult to recall some of the details of some of the shouts.

There are some shouts which do stand out though.

When the pagers went off just before 2pm on his 40th birthday on 1 April 2009 he responded immediately and was out with the lifeboat. That was the day when a helicopter with 16 oil workers crashed in the North Sea. They had an idea that there wouldn’t be any survivors. The search for missing oil workers went on all day and continued at first light on the second day and was eventually called off late in the night of 2 April.

“When we got on scene the air was thick with the smell of aviation fuel. Other vessels joined in the search which was coordinated brilliantly by our coxswain Vic Sutherland from the lifeboat” said Graeme “Unfortunately there were no survivors on that occasion. None of us will ever forget that day”

Graeme’s commitment to the RNLI and saving lives at sea remains undiminished and over the years he’s seen many changes in crew, personnel, accommodation, lifeboats, equipment, techniques, technology and training.

“The RNLI as an organisation is committed to continual improvement, the changes have been very interesting and I’m happy to stay on and help when and where I can” said Graeme.

The RNLI Long Service Awards celebrate longstanding volunteers’ selfless service and commitment to saving lives at sea.

The RNLI is proud to have such long-serving volunteers.

RNLI Long Service Awards recognise the commitment and service of volunteers who have been helping to save lives at sea over many decades. Volunteering together with passion, talent and kindness, like generations of lifesavers before them.

Graeme’s 20 year long service medal is circular and is struck in silver-plated base metal.

The obverse shows the left-facing bust of the RNLI founder Sir William Hillary, surrounded by the words

Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

The reverse shows a representation of two outstretched hands clasped above a raging sea with, on a surrounding band, the inscription 'With Courage Nothing is Impossible'

The medal has Graeme’s name on the rim.

The ribbon, suspended from a fixed straight suspender, is navy blue with narrow red and yellow edges, the colours of the RNLI.

Well done Graeme, we're very proud of you!

RNLI/Billy Watson

Graeme Duthie with 20 years long service badge

RNLI/Billy Watson

Graeme Duthie with a close up of his 20 years long service medal

RNLI/Billy Watson

Graeme Duthie running for a shout in 2019

RNLI/Billy Watson

Graeme Duthie In Fraserburgh Harbour with the Lifeboat

RNLI/Billy Watson

Graeme Duthie just outside Fraserburgh Harbour with the Lifeboat

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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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.