RNLI crews called to the rescue over Christmas
The festive period may have represented a break for many, but for the volunteer crews of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) it was business as usual, with thousands of volunteers around the UK and Ireland ready to answer the call.
On Christmas Eve, when many of us were busy with last-minute preparations, the crew of Newhaven RNLI in East Sussex launched to the aid of two paragliders who had fallen into the sea. Despite challenging tidal conditions, the pair were safely brought back to shore and handed into the care of waiting paramedics, whilst crews returned home to start their Christmas celebrations.
On Christmas Day, at Walmer in Kent, the volunteer crew were called away from the festivities not once but twice, first responding to reports of an empty boat drifting out at sea shortly after 10am. The boat was found and towed back to the harbour safely, but strong winds meant that a net recovery was needed to get the boat back to station, a test of skill and teamwork between both the helm and tractor driver which sees the helm steering the boat into the recovery trailer where it is captured by a collapsing net.
Walmer’s volunteers were then paged again around 1.30pm, after reports of a person in the water. A quick launch saw the lifeboat on-scene in three minutes, with the casualty revealed to be the body of a sheep. Once again, wind and sea conditions made for a difficult recovery into the net, after which the crew were finally able to carry on with their Christmas celebrations.
Walmer RNLI's Operations Manager Denis Brophy said: 'Two shouts on Christmas Day is a first in my lifeboat career and I think a first for the station. My thanks go to the families and friends of the crew who responded.’ The station's Area Lifesaving Manager Allen Head also added his thanks to the team and their families, commenting that they had shown the 'very best of selflessness' in their commitment.
Over 550 miles away in Bangor, Northern Ireland, volunteer lifeboat crew members faced strong winds and high seas to rush to the rescue of two swimmers who had got into difficulty at Helen's Bay. Despite the call coming on Christmas morning, the boat was ready to launch just 5 minutes after the pagers sounded – even if one crew member later admitted that they were still wearing their pyjamas under their drysuit.
Working alongside colleagues from Air Ambulance Northern Ireland, Bangor Coastguard Rescue Team, Portaferry Coastguard Rescue Team, Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and NI Road Policing and Safety, the lifeboat crew were able to rescue the two swimmers, but not before two of the Bangor RNLI volunteer lifeboat crew had to enter the water themselves to assist.
Bryan Lawther, Bangor RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager commented: ‘This was a difficult rescue, with poor conditions and located close to dangerous rocks. It is a testament to the crew’s professionalism, experience and training that the rescue was successful. We should also remember that while four crew went out on the boat, another 15 volunteers put their Christmas on hold to help launch the boat, and stayed to help clean down the boat on her return, ready for her next launch. It is thanks to an amazing team effort from our lifeboat crew and our emergency services colleagues that we were able to hand the casualties onto the safe care of others.’
This New Year many RNLI crew members will leave their loved ones behind to answer the call, each time hoping to reunite another family, and see those in trouble at sea safely returned. Over the past decade, RNLI lifeboats have launched over 1,200 times during the festive period*.
But these rescues would not be possible without donations from the RNLI’s generous supporters, helping to fund the essential kit, training and equipment needed by lifeboat crews all year round.
If you would like to help bring lifesavers safely home this festive season, donate to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal.
*Here, the festive period covers 24 – 31 December inclusive.
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.
Learn more about the RNLI
Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries