Monday, 29 August 2016

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute - saving lives at sea.

The Headquarters of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) is in Poole in Dorset. Back in the Spring I visited it and have been meaning to write a post about it ever since. With the recent sad deaths along our coastline, which have continued this week, it is an appropriate moment to appreciate the many people in the RNLI and emergency services who are willing to put their lives at risk to save others.

The lifeboats at RNLI Headquarters Poole
The islands of Britain and Ireland have always been at the mercy of the sea. In the early 19th century there were 1,800 shipwrecks a year.  It almost became an accepted occurrence and some coastal communities would try their best to help the survivors reach shore. In 1824 Sir William Hillary who had been involved in various rescues formed a  charity for the national institute for the preservation of life and property from shipwrecks. In 1854 this was renamed the National Lifeboat Institute.

Lifeboat at Weymouth Harbour
 In neighbouring Lyme Regis in 1825 a Coastguard Captain named Richard Spence altered a boat by adding airtight compartments and cork fending so that it could be used as a lifeboat.  In 1838 Grace Darling was a lighthouse keepers daughter, who at the age of 22 persuaded her father to row out in raging seas to rescue the survivors of the  wrecked paddle steamer SS Forfareshire. They managed to rescue nine survivors. For a detailed account of the rescue see here. The Darlings were both awarded the RNLI Silver medal for their gallantry.

Grace Darling rescuing the survivors.
In  February 1861 200 ships were wrecked off the East coast. The Whitby lifeboat launched five times to rescue stricken vessels. On the sixth launch a freak wave hit the lifeboat and the sole survivor was Henry Freeman. He was the only one wearing a cork life jacket, that had been recently issued by the RNLI. The design of life jackets has changed considerably since then, this one was so heavy it's not surprising that the other men on that lifeboat choose not to wear it.


 Henry Blogg (1876-1954) was the RNLI's more decorated lifeboatman. He served on the Cromer lifeboats for 53 years. He was awarded three gold medals, four silver medals and the George Cross and the British Empire Medal. During his time at Cromer lifeboats 893 lives were saved, what an amazing achievement!
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In the past the majority of the lifeboat men came were those who worked on boats, as the number of fishermen and sailors have declined it became apparent that there was a need to train those working on the lifeboats. In 2004 the RNLI college opened in Poole and has excellent training facilities. These facilities can be viewed by visitors.


 There is a lifeboat simulator which allows the trainees to experience real life experiences.  It felt very realistic as we headed out of Dover harbour and went to the aid of a stricken oil tanker. It was challenging manouvering the lifeboat in difficult sea conditions. There were many other vessels in the area which added to the difficulties of getting close to people in the water. It really made you appreciate the hazards involved and the conditions they have to work in.



We also were able to watch a practice on learning how to deal with a lifeboat that capsizes in the water. This is likely to be the only chance the trainees will have to experience this, unless it happens for real.


The lifeboat was hitched up out of the water, and then dropped back in upside down. It seem to take an age before they reappeared and managed to turn the boat back over. We had been told that there was an air pocket under the boat, but it still felt scary just watching it. The last lifeboat to be lost was the Solomon Brown in 1981 with all hands on deck, see this moving video.



I came away with so much admiration for the lifeboat men and women. It is amazing that this service is still a funded completely through charity and they receive so much support to keep the service going. They also supply over 1,000 lifeguards who patrol around 200 beaches in the UK during the summer. Some of the cost of the lifeguards is funded by local authorities and beach owners. With the cut backs in public spending over the last few years some of the service has been reduced.


RNLI at Holes Bay

A tour around the RNLI college can only be booked in advance. Their restaurant/cafe here is very popular especially for Sunday roasts and breakfast and it overlooks Holes Bay. You can also stay here (when the accommodation is not been used by the trainees) see here.

How does life saving at sea operate in other countries? There are RNLI museums for Grace Darling and Henry Blogg have you visited them?
Stay safe, until next time.
Sarah x

22 comments:

  1. A fascinating post Sarah and very timely as you say. So many tragic lives lost recently. You might be interested in this link to a clip of a rescue the other day . This was by our Jersey Fire and rescue boat which is affiliated with the RNLI . Sometimes they have to use these small boats for inshore rescues. The footage is very scary and makes you realise how dangerous these rescues are.

    http://www.itv.com/news/channel/2016-08-23/fire-fighter-thrown-from-boat-in-dramatic-sea-rescue-video/
    B x

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    1. Thank you for the clip Barbara it does illustrate the awful conditions they have to work in to save lives. Sarah x

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  2. I remember when the RNLI had its HQ in London for went there for an interview as a Marine Draughtsman, the only problem was that I was unable to afford the salary. My next dealings with them when I visited their IRB development works on the Isle of Wight in the 70's; for I was similarly engaged on the design of an inflatable work boat.
    It is the RNLI who operate here in Ireland and do magnificent work.

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  3. There is an advert that says that a certain company is the fourth emergency service, I beg to differ. The people that volunteer for this essential service for this island that we live in is the most dangerous and to think that a few minutes earlier they would have been going about their daily jobs. A brilliant post xxx

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  4. How interesting! Mother Nature is far more dangerous than human beings when she chooses to be...

    Have a great week! xo

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  5. We met our oldest SIL when he was in the Coast Guard in Crescent City, CA, and we became more aware of the courageous work of those in the USA Coast Guard who patrol our coastal waters and the Great Lakes to aid those in distress in the water and to confront those who choose watery routes to break the law. http://www.gocoastguard.com/ Thanks for this interesting post about the RNLI in the UK, Sarah. I trained for Red Cross Sr. Lifesaving 45 years ago and came away with great respect for the wonders and worries of swimming and boating. xx

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  6. That's an interesting post, Sarah. The RNLI do such a marvellous job and as you say it's amazing that it is still funded through charity donations. We visited the Grace Darling Museum at Bamburgh a few years ago.

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  7. The Canadian Coast Guard has a Search and Rescue branch which does the rescue work. It is all federally funded.

    Such important work done all over the world along the coastlines. I enjoyed this post about your area.

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  8. A most interesting post, Sarah. In Finland, The Border Guard is the authority leading and coordinating all maritime search-and-rescue activities although a number of other authorities as well as voluntary organisations and individuals may be involved depending on the case.

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  9. In South Africa sea rescue is trained volunteers. (Also mountain rescue and part of the firefighters) Brave men and women on top of a day job!

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  10. Trying out the lifeboat simulation sounds scary! They do an amazing job!

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  11. Oh my. Very interesting. And I don't think I'd have been able to suffer through the training experience. (Unless of course the life boat tosses you out and I was free to swim. ha). Bless those that do this training in an effort to save others.

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  12. I remember seeing a piece on the rescue organization on Escape to the Country. They filmed the training exercise where the boat was flipped and the trainees were trapped underneath and how they got out. Your post was very informative and points out the boating community's responsibility to not put themselves in danger needlessly by not paying attention to the weather because they are not only risking their lives but those of their rescuers.

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  13. I won a prize to do training with Careflight Helicopters in OZ as I knew you got put in a car and submerged in water, I gave the prize away. I could not think of anything scarier than that. It is disgusting that it is a charity, governments need to support these areas more.

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    2. I wouldn't have wanted that prize either! I expect someone enjoyed it. Sarah x

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  14. Brave and wonderful men and women who risk everything to bring safety to all who dare venture into the unpredictable but beautiful sea....

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  15. This was such an interesting post, Sarah. I am very surprised that this service doesn't get any government funding. I read the BBC news every day, both the world edition and the U.K. edition. The stories about the drownings over the past week have been very sad.

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  16. A wonderful, wonderful post.
    The work the RNLI do is to be applauded.

    All the best Jan

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  17. As occasional crew on my husband's small sailing yacht, I have a strong respect for the sea and a great admiration for anyone who is prepared to help those in danger. The RNLI do an amazing job in treacherous conditions.

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  18. As well as training RNLI staff, perhaps we need some "Public Service Announcements" to train ordinary people about the sea and how to enjoy it safely! You see so many silly people standing on piers filming huge waves. It's no wonder that some of them become casualties.

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  19. I do agree with Mark's suggestion. I remember the story of Grace Darling vividly from a long-ago schoolbook. We owe such a debt to such people.

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