Medal Marks 20 Years of Service for Alan
Dunbar RNLI lifeboat volunteer Alan Blair has been presented with a special medal to honour 20 years’ service helping save lives at sea.
When Alan, 39, joined the crew in 2002 as a 19-year-old he wasn’t sure he would have the sea legs for the lifeboat – as his only previous experience on a boat hadn’t gone that well.
He said: “When I was younger my neighbour invited me on a fishing trip but I was sick the entire time! Thankfully, though, when I first went out on the lifeboat it didn’t affect me and, although there have been times over the years when I’ve been close to feeling that way, it hasn’t happened since.”
When Alan joined the crew, Dunbar’s lifeboats were the Sir Ronald Pechell, Bt all-weather (ALB) and The Hastings (Brothers) inshore (ILB). In 2008 – the year the Sir Ronald Pechell was damaged beyond repair in a storm and replaced with the current ALB John Neville Taylor – Alan became a helm on the ILB.
He has served on countless ‘shouts’ – but can still recall the nervous excitement of his first service call. He said: “It was a Saturday afternoon when the bleepers, as we had then before pagers, went off. I headed down to the lifeboat station not expecting to get picked. A jet skier had broken down at Torness. I got picked and we headed down there. As it was the jet skier had managed to get himself to the harbour, where the ALB is moored, so we weren’t needed but it was my first taste of what it’s like being on a shout, when the adrenalin is pumping and your mind is full of what the job might be.”
From that day, Alan has played a crucial role – and not always at sea.
“I remember years ago, when a Dutch yacht ran aground at the harbour entrance and was getting smashed off the rocks at the bottom of the castle,” he said.
“I was on my way home when the bleeper went. I didn’t drive at the time so had to cycle down to the harbour as fast as I could. There, one of the deputy launch authorities (DLAs) told me to give the coastguards a hand. They were at the castle and the plan was to winch the two people on board the yacht up to the castle. We went to the top of the castle and managed to winch the husband and wife to safety. Sadly for them their boat was completely destroyed but the crew put them up in a local hotel and helped them out all week and until they got back on their way again. I got a letter of thanks for the coastguard after that one.”
Alan was also part of the crew that rescued a seriously ill passenger from a cruise ship.
“It was about ten years ago and it was 2am when the pager went. I opened my curtains to check the weather and all I could see was this huge boat lit up like a Christmas tree, lying some way out. When we got alongside the cruise ship I looked up, thinking, ‘how are we going to get onto it?’ The next thing, side doors opened and there was the casualty already in a stretcher.
“We brought him straight onto the lifeboat with his wife and two suitcases. We gave him oxygen and got him back to the harbour as fast as we could. We passed him straight to the ambulance. I think he’d suffered a suspected heart attack but we heard the next day that he was alive and well and sitting up in bed.”
Alan, who is married to wife Lisa, 33, and works as a CNC metal engraver in Haddington, has also featured in the long-running BBC series on the RNLI, Saving Lives at Sea, after helming the ILB in the rescue of two walkers and their dog cut off by the tide near Bilsdean, southeast of Torness, in September 2020.
In challenging conditions, Alan dropped two crew off to help the casualties aboard.
Alan said: “The high winds and height of tide made the approach slightly challenging but our biggest worry that day was how the dog would react to the crew … but he took it in his stride!”
With his award, Alan follows in the footsteps of his father, Barclay Blair, who received a long service medal for 22 years in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Sadly, Barclay passed away last year, but Alan’s award carries on a remarkable record of public service in the Blair family.
Alan said: “I did previously try to join the fire brigade, like my dad, but didn’t manage to get in. A lot of my friends had joined the lifeboat crew and said how much they enjoyed it so I went along to see what it was like.
“Back then I had no idea I would still be there all these years later. It hasn’t felt like 20 years – but after all that time kneeling in the ILB my knees certainly feel every one of them!”
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