A new coxswain for RNLI Ilfracombe
Ben Langham has his first shout as Ilfracombe RNLI’s newest coxswain
“Dad was boat crew here for as long as I can remember,” Ben recollects. “Probably from when I was about eight. So my brother and I were so used to his pager going off and him going out the door. That was our family’s normal”.
So when Ben was 17, it was no surprise when he started as shore crew, helping to launch and recover the lifeboat that his father was on. What was a surprise was when Andrew Putt, the Coxswain at the time, asked him to join the boat crew and Ben said no. “I just didn’t like the sea”, he explains. “I don’t think I liked the feeling of being in a boat on the sea.”
A week of thinking about it, however, and Ben had decided he could perhaps put up with being on a boat after all. Since then, Ben has been constantly training and learning. First to become inshore lifeboat crew, then crew on the all-weather lifeboat and helm on the inshore lifeboat. In 2015, he was one of the boat crew who went to Poole to bring the brand new Shannon class lifeboat, the Barry and Peggy High Foundation, to her new home in Ilfracombe.
Last October, Ben started formal training to become coxswain of the very same lifeboat. The coxswain’s job is to lead the lifeboat crew at sea and ashore. “To be honest,” Ben says humbly, “it is not very much different to being helm. I suppose there is more weight on my shoulders, but not enough to stress me out.”
Ben remained just as calm when, only a week after passing out as coxswain, he had his first shout on the lifeboat as coxswain. Someone was injured and also unwell on Lundy and needed medical treatment, the all-weather lifeboat was launched to travel to Lundy to pick them up. Having a poorly person on board is a potentially stressful scenario and landing at Lundy’s jetty is not always easy, but Ben took it all in his stride. “It was calm on the jetty,” he says “so that was nice. It just feels really good to have got that first shout done. I can just get on with it now.”
Ben’s brother, Dom, is also boat crew at Ilfracombe and their father, Ian, is now Deputy Launch Authority. He is delighted to have both his sons as boat crew at Ilfracombe. “I am proud that they have followed in my footsteps. Life with the lifeboats must be in their blood!”
And what's next for Ben? He already has his eye on more training, further broadening his skill set on the lifeboat.
For someone who couldn’t face going on the sea, Ben has certainly come a long way!
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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