RNLI Helm Jon Retires After 17 years of Saving Lives At Sea

Lifeboats News Release

After 17 years of volunteering in Portishead, RNLI Helm Jon Colwill hangs up his drysuit for the last time.

Jon Colwill at the Helm

RNLI/Helen Lazenby

Jon Colwill at the Helm

Jon reached the retirement age for inshore lifeboat crew back in December 2020, his birthday was a bittersweet day. Normally a time to celebrate albeit a bit more low key with the pandemic just now, this birthday meant that Jon was now no longer able to go to sea on the Atlantic 85 class Lifeboat based at Portishead, My Lady Anne.

Jon joined the lifesaving charity, The Portishead Lifeboat Trust, back in 2003 when the rescue service was an independent charity, based at Sugar Loaf Beach. Jon became a Helm just a year later in 2004 and has played a large part in supporting the charity ever since.

Jon has made many memories over the years, not just saving lives when the pager goes, but he also supported the fundraising team. With his wife Tracey, over the years they organised a number of Charity Golf Day fundraising events, helping to raise much needed funds for The Portishead Lifeboat Trust to enable them to continue their rescue service.

Unusually Jon has also been known to catch a fish on the Lifeboat whilst out on a shout! The crew were responding to an emergency call out and when they were manoeuvring in to assist the casualty vessel that was in danger of running aground on rocks just near to Sugar Loaf Beach. Andy Allen, who was Helm at the time, and his crew were joined by another passenger! Whilst positioning the Lifeboat to enable the crew to throw tow lines to the skipper in distress, a salmon literally jumped out of the sea on to his lap! He threw the fish to the back of the lifeboat so that the crew could help the skipper in trouble. Once the casualty vessel was secure and the skipper was safe, they realised they still had another passenger. Sadly, it was a little too late for the fish so they bought it back to shore with them.

In April 2015 the RNLI secured the adoption of the Portishead Lifeboat Trust on the completion of the build of the brand new state of the art Lifeboat Station which now stands near to the Pier just along from Portishead Marina. Jon and two other crew members were selected to welcome the purpose built Atlantic 85 Lifeboat, My Lady Anne which arrived a few months later to replace the relief lifeboat that had been on station since the adoption.

Jon said ‘It was an honour to be able to bring My Lady Anne in to service here in Portishead, it is sad I won’t be able to go to sea with her or my other friends anymore. But don’t worry I will still be around to annoy everyone. I might have hung up my drysuit but I still have my yellow wellies.’

You will still find Jon at the RNLI Station when the pager goes, helping to launch the lifeboat on service. He will be continuing to drive the tractor, which is not an easy task, particularly at night driving along the track to the lower slipway at low water in driving rain, challenging sea condition and very limited visibility. He will be helping with shore crew duties and will also continue to be a part of the training team, so plenty to still keep him busy.

His wife Tracey said ‘We can’t quite believe where the last 17 years have gone. Yes, he has missed out on a few family events, or had to leave during them when the pager goes, but it is what he does. Our whole family and our friends are incredibly proud of what he has done for PLT and now the RNLI. The Lifeboat crew are a big part of our family and we can’t imagine him not helping when the pager goes, we all jump, including the dog!’

Dave Slack Lifeboat Operations Manager ‘Jon and I joined the crew on the same day, back in 2003, and he has always been well respected by everyone. One of his key strengths is that, in terms of his skills and experience, he is so modest. Combined with the fact that he is also someone who truly puts other people before himself, Jon has been an ideal team mate to learn from.

Jon has also been part of our training team for many years now, striving to achieve the high standards that we set for ourselves, and he has been instrumental in developing the next generation of Helms. So, as one Helm retires, another steps forward. Our values here at the RNLI require us to be Selfless, Dependable, Trustworthy and Courageous. Jon embodies these values in every way and I look forward to serving with him ashore, for many more years to come!’

RNLI notes to editors

My Lady Anne was specially built by the team at the Isle of Wight RNLI Inshore Lifeboat Centre after a generous donation by Mr Bill Wraith in memory of his late wife.

All images are ©RNLI Portishead

1 – Jon Colwill at the Helm

2 – Helm Jon Colwill

3 – Jon (3rd from left) with crew members, Tony Daw, Andy Phillips and Andy Allen (Helm on the day) return from a shout with the salmon

4 – Jon Colwill (standing left) with volunteer crew members Ian Alder and Dave Hodges ready to receive My Lady Anne for the first time.

5 – Jon Colwill at the Helm, with volunteer crew members Nick Williams, Ian Lazenby and Jake Bacon just before he retired from sea going duties.

6 – Jon Colwill at the Helm from Portishead Lifeboat Trust days

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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 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.

A charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SCO37736). Charity number CHY 2678 in the Republic of Ireland.
Helm Jon Colwill

RNLI/Helen Lazenby

Helm Jon Colwill
Jon (3rd from left) with crew members, Tony Daw, Andy Phillips and Andy Allen (Helm on the day) return from a shout with the salmon

RNLI/Helen Lazenby

Jon (3rd from left) with crew members, Tony Daw, Andy Phillips and Andy Allen (Helm on the day) return from a shout with the salmon
Jon Colwill (standing left) with volunteer crew members Ian Alder and Dave Hodges ready to receive My Lady Anne for the first time.

RNLI/Helen Lazenby

Jon Colwill (standing left) with volunteer crew members Ian Alder and Dave Hodges ready to receive My Lady Anne for the first time.
Jon Colwill at the Helm, with volunteer crew members Nick Williams, Ian Lazenby and Jake Bacon just before he retired from sea going duties.

RNLI/Helen Lazenby

Jon Colwill at the Helm, with volunteer crew members Nick Williams, Ian Lazenby and Jake Bacon just before he retired from sea going duties.
Jon Colwill at the Helm from Portishead Lifeboat Trust days

RNLI/Helen Lazenby

Jon Colwill at the Helm from Portishead Lifeboat Trust days

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 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.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

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.