Former crew member at Portaferry RNLI becomes Lifeboat Operations Manager
A former lifeboat crew member who joined the volunteer team at Portaferry RNLI in 1980 when she was just 17, has recently returned to her hometown where she has now taken up the reins as Lifeboat Operations Manager, a position her father held when she first joined.
Heather Kennedy officially took up the Lifeboat Operations Manager position on the 12 October but says it was far from her mind when she moved back to Portaferry last November. She succeeds outgoing Lifeboat Operations Manager Philip Johnston who led the team for almost five years having also served for many years before that as a Deputy Launching Authority and a crew member.
‘The lifeboat was only here a year when I became a crew member at the age of 17 in 1980,’ Heather explains. ‘My dad Billy Brown was the Honorary Secretary as it was known then, and he was the main reason I got involved. I was mad keen to join the crew and the D class lifeboat which eventually moved to the Atlantic 21 class. I trained and passed out as a helm in Cowes but also qualified as a nurse during the same period so after 12 years on the crew, I moved to England for work.’
While sailing always featured in Heather’s life, it wasn’t until she moved home to Portaferry a year ago, that she got involved with the RNLI again: ‘I thought I could quietly come back and volunteer as shore crew which I did for the first few months, but then other people had other ideas for me when the vacancy for Lifeboat Operations Manager came up.’
As for following in her father’s footsteps in becoming the Lifeboat Operations Manager, Heather says taking on the role is an honour: ‘It is a real privilege to be the Lifeboat Operations Manager for a station and I know that when I think of all the Lifeboat Operations Managers that have gone before me and the respect that I have for them. I know I have big boots to fill and that there are expectations when our safe and reliable lifeboat is requested to launch when the time arises.’
Heather has seen significant changes since her time as a crew member and has a variety of new responsibilities.
‘So much has changed since I was a crew member here in the eighties. We now have an Atlantic 85 class lifeboat, all the crew have their individual personal protective equipment (PPE) and there have been so many advancements in technology and equipment, all changes in the good and right way.
‘There has been a lot to get my head around including everything relating to the crew’s training and the technical and digital side of things but what I have found so far is that everybody is falling over themselves to help me. I have also had great support from people in the sailing club, the community, and my family. Everyone at the station including our 25-strong team of lifeboat and shore crew, have been very welcoming, friendly, and supportive and I have got great help and advice from my fellow launching authorities including John Murray who was a crew member at the same time as me.’
Wishing her well in the role, Phillip Johnston, RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager said: ‘Heather is helping the RNLI to save lives at sea by carrying out the day-to-day management of the lifeboat station at Portaferry. I want to thank and commend her for the work she has done in her short time in the role to date, to authorise the launch of the lifeboat, to provide leadership to the operations team and to ensure that all operational activities are carried out to maintain the lifeboat and all associated equipment. It is a busy volunteer role and one I hope she continues to enjoy and finds rewarding as she supports the team around her.’
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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