October 2018 – Fraser Gunn – the RNLI

‘For Those in Peril on the Sea’

We yachtsmen thought we knew about the RNLI – it rescues people like us, fishermen and merchant seamen in terrible gales.  Well it does, but as Fraser Gunn – our speaker this month – revealed, it also rescues huge numbers of walkers, sea-anglers, kayakers etc. as well as, in 2017, 24,000 people aided by RNLI beach lifeguards!

Fraser started by recounting how two 15 year-old lads, first time afloat and crewing on a jaunt to Alderney, met terrible conditions as they approached the UK coast on the way home, lost their rig and, with no engine (this was just post-war), no VHF etc. – had just a  single parachute flare to summon help.  Fortunately it was seen, the lifeboat launched and they were saved.  Fraser was one of those lads! And has been a dedicated RNLI supporter ever since.

The RNLI was founded in 1824 – think 18,000 shipwrecks a year – by Sir William Hilary, in the face of no Admiralty support.    The first lifeboats were open and rowed, then came sailing boats and finally powered vessels.  The latest Shannon class all-weather-lifeboat is remarkable, can be beach launched and recovered in virtually all conditions and was designed and is built in-house by the RNLI at their Poole HQ.  As the RNLI continually renews and upgrades it’s fleet their old boats find themselves all over the world underpinning other SAR organisations, many based on and trained by the RNLI.  And then there are the inshore boats, and even a few hovercraft.

Apart from a few full time crew members on the Thames and at the isolated Spurn Head station, the lifeboat crews remain unpaid volunteers and now include many women.  And whilst the lifeboat crews – a byword for courage and self-sacrifice – are often the most visible part of the organisation, they in turn depend on thousands of shorebased volunteers, from humble fund raisers to the guys that drive the beach launch tractors( into and and often right under boiling surf – as one of Fraser’s video clips showed).

The RNLI remains a charity (they flirted with state support for 10 years in the late 19th century but found it too beareaucratic and restrictive and reverted) and needs to raise almost £200m a year to protect all those who venture near water – whether at sea, the coast and even inland.