John Owen, RNLI, Tuesday 28 January 2014

John gave the Club members a talk about the RNLI, a charity that the Club supports through The World Pooh Sticks Championships. It was also interesting to learn that John is a friend of Lynn David, the former lock keeper at Little Wittenham, who started the championships off back in the 1980’s and was Keeper of the Sticks in the very first formal event.

Sir William Hillary, from his home on the Isle of Man, witnessed dozens of shipwrecks and was involved in some dramatic rescues with the local independent lifeboat station crew at Douglas. He argued with the government that lifeboats and crews were needed and they agreed with him however would not give him any funds. He went instead to the shipping lines to raise the money needed and held a competition to build an unsinkable lifeboat. The design settled on for the lifeboats was based on a Yorkshire cob. The RNLI has saved more than 140,000 lives since its foundation in 1824 as the ‘National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck’. The name was changed to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1854.

The Fleet
Different classes of lifeboat are needed for various locations, depending on geographical features, the kind of rescue work that the station is asked to do and the cover provided by neighbouring stations. RNLI lifeboats are divided into two categories: all-weather and inshore. There are 6 types of all-weather boat in operation, all named after UK rivers – Shannon, Tamar, Severn, Trent, Tyne and Mersey and 5 types of inshore class that usually operate closer to shore, in shallower water, close to cliffs, among rocks or even in caves. The RNLI also have 3 hovercrafts that can operate in areas such as mud flats or river estuaries that are inaccessible to conventional lifeboats. The costs of the boats vary from about £39,000 for a D Class inshore lifeboat to £2.7 million for a Trent or Severn class lifeboat. All lifeboats are now designed to be self-righting either by the crew or by inflatable airbags. The flooding that the UK has been experiencing of late means that special flood rescue teams have been trained to work in fast flowing water. The RNLI also sell on craft that they no longer require and has recently sold 7 lifeboats to China to patrol the Yangtze River.

Every crew member undergoes a structured training programme, and trainee crew members undertake a 12-month probationary period, working through a crew development plan. 12% of lifeboat crews are now female, the upper age limit for inshore crew is 45 and for offshore is 55 years of age. After 6 months of regular training and getting to know and work with the coxswain/helmsman and crew, the crew can then go on a Trainee Crew course at
RNLI College in Poole. Approximately 4,000 lifeboat crew and lifeguards pass through the college annually to participate in one or more of nearly 40 different courses currently on offer. The accommodation at the College is also available at weekends for the general public to book or to use for functions.

Facts about the RNLI
300 Lifeboat Stations
4,500 Volunteers
2,800 Shore Helpers
35,000 Fundraising Volunteers
8,321 Lifeboats have been launched saving 7,912 lives
160 Lifeguards have landed 16,414 people to safety
It costs £385,000 a day to run the RNLI
For every £1 donated, 83p goes to the rescue service and 19p is invested to generate more funds

RNLI website