RNLI recognise Fraserburgh Volunteer John Stephen’s 20 years Long Service

Lifeboats News Release

Fraserburgh Lifeboat volunteer John Stephen (37) has been awarded a long service medal by the RNLI in recognition of the 20 years service he has given to the charity that saves lives at sea since he first joined as a 17 year old in April 2001.

RNLI/Billy Watson

John Stephen with Medal John’s 20 year long service medal is circular and is struck in silver-plated base metal. The ribbon, suspended from a fixed straight suspender, is navy blue with narrow red and yellow edges, the colours of the RNLI.

John is also the skipper of the Fraserburgh Fishing Vessel Sunrise and is often away fishing, but when he is at home he is always ready to respond to his RNLI pager when it goes off and is committed to saving lives at sea with Fraserburgh Lifeboat.

A few years ago his boat Sunrise featured in the Trawlermen a BBC Series about the lives of North East fishing crews and John appeared in several episodes as a young deckhand

Nowadays as a lifeboat volunteer John often provides cover for full time Coxswain/mechanic Vic Sutherland at Fraserburgh and has also been able to provide cover at several other RNLI stations over the years.

John first trained as a mechanic in 2002 and soon passed out and then trained as a coxswain not long after and passed that as well.

John’s late father (also John) had been on the lifeboat as a young man for three or four years when the station had reopened in the late seventies.

“I guess that I’d been intrigued by all the stories I’d heard from him when I was a youngster” said John

From a young age John always thought he would join the lifeboat as soon as he could.

John started attending exercises with Fraserburgh Lifeboat as soon as he was 17 in January 2001 but had to wait till April that year to officially join after all the paperwork had been processed.

Albert Sutherland was the coxswain then and the lifeboat was the Tyne class City of Edinburgh.

John remembers the early days very well and recalled spending the first year training as a mechanic on the Tyne class and then going to Poole in April to learn all about the new Trent Class Lifeboat which was coming to Fraserburgh.

Alan Smith had taken over as coxswain from Albert towards the end of 2001 and John’s first shout came early in 2002. The lifeboat was launched after the coastguard had received a call from a concerned member of the public that a small vessel was in difficulty off St Combs. When they arrived on scene the “May Rose” wasn’t in difficulty but making slow progress to Fraserburgh because of the poor weather conditions . The coastguard requested the lifeboat remain with the “May Rose” until safely in Fraserburgh because of the rough seas with wind gusting to 60 knots.

John recalled two very different memorable shouts before his 20th birthday.

I had just started doing my ticket at the college and went down to the station at the back of nine on a Saturday night and Charlie Duthie who was the Hon. Sec at the time said “Steadfast! Thirty mile off, its on fire! The galley is on fire”

As we approached the scene all we could see was a cloud of smoke coming from the Steadfast. So we went alongside and took half the crew off and left half on board. The skipper didn’t want to abandon ship because he was pretty sure he had the fire sealed, all the doors were shut and everything.

And then a big oil boat came in with its big water cannon and boundary cooled the Steadfast for half an hour before we escorted them back to Fraserburgh and were met on the quayside by the local fire brigade.

John then recalled another very different shout

“It was during the time I was doing my ticket at the college and it was a Saturday. I had just finished studying for a radar exam on the Monday when my pager went off.

I came down to the station and Davie Sutherland who was duty coxswain said there were reports of three people in trouble at New Aberdour beach. A bairn had been on an inflatable and had been sucked out by the tide. Her mam and father had went into the water after her and had got a hold of her and scrambled on to a rock farther out.”

When the lifeboat arrived on scene, duty coxswain Davie Sutherland deployed the small XP boat with John and another volunteer crew member. They got right up to the rock where the young family were stranded and managed to get all three aboard.

“We took them ashore to the ambulance who were waiting on the beach” John said. “They were beginning to show signs of hypothermia, that was a close call that day for them.

That’s the thing with shouts, they’re all different, and there’s never two the same, and you have to be ready for anything. “

And John’s been ready for any thing for over 20 years since he joined the RNLI, he’s only 37, which means he’s dedicated more half his life to the charity that saves lives at sea and his commitment is as strong as ever.

He’s seen a lot of changes in his twenty years as the RNLI continues to progress and develop its policy of continual improvement.

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

The 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 John’s name on the rim.

The 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.

Well done John, we're proud of you!

RNLI/Billy Watson

The obverse side of John’s medal shows the left-facing bust of the RNLI founder Sir William Hillary, surrounded by the words Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

RNLI/Billy Watson

The reverse of John’s medal shows a representation of two outstretched hands clasped above a raging sea with, on a surrounding band, the inscription With courage nothing is impossible.

RNLI/Billy Watson

The medal has John’s name inscribed on the rim.

RNLI/Billy Watson

John running for a shout in 2016

RNLI/Billy Watson

John leaving Fraserburgh Harbour on a shout as duty coxswain in 2016

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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