This Christmas season hundreds of Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) volunteer lifeboat crew leave festive family celebrations behind to brave rough seas and winter weather to save lives at sea. Last year, there were 88 RNLI lifeboat launches carried out over the Christmas and New Year period* (December 24 to New Year’s Day in England, Ireland and Wales, and from December 24 to January 2 in Scotland), with the volunteer crews spending a combined total of 602 hours at sea, dealing with everything from fishermen falling overboard to fires breaking out on boats.
RNLI statistics show that the number of call outs during the festive period is rising. Over the last 20 years, RNLI lifeboat launches during this period have increased by 87%. In the last five years alone, crews around the British Isles have responded to 457 calls for help, rescuing 240 people, at the one time of year most people are at home with their families.
And this year, the RNLI’s 4,500 volunteer crews will be ready to drop everything as soon as their pagers go off. The call could come while they are opening presents with their family or just as the turkey is about to be carved, yet they are willing to respond at a moment’s notice.
They may be called to help those in trouble at sea, and if they are part of the RNLI Flood Rescue Team, they will be on standby to rescue people if any part of the country should suffer the affects of inland flooding.
Meanwhile, at the Gravesend, Chiswick and Tower Lifeboat Stations, crew members will be manning the stations around the clock, as they do every day of the year. Covering the busy and dangerous waters of the Thames. Crew at these stations aim to launch within 90 seconds of receiving a request for help so have to remain based on site.
RNLI Operations Director, Michael Vlasto comments: "More lifeboat launches means more volunteer crews called away from their family and friends during the Christmas period. At this time of year, I’m always reminded just how extraordinary our volunteers are, giving up valuable time with their families throughout the year to rescue on average 21 people a day – and Christmas time is no exception. We are proud to have such dedicated volunteers, with such supportive families who spare them at a time when most other families come together."
The charity’s volunteer crews are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help save lives not just at sea, but also inland during floods – last month the RNLI’s Flood Rescue Team, sponsored by Goodyear, helped to rescue 300 people from the catastrophic flooding in Cumbria along with other emergency services.
Michael Vlasto continues: "Our lifeboat service receives no UK Government funding and relies on donations. It is thanks to the generosity of the public that we are able to go on providing this service. Their donations and support for events like RNLI SOS Day, help to ensure that our lifeboat crews can continue rescuing people and saving lives, whether inland or at sea."
On Boxing Day last year, Tynemouth RNLI volunteer lifeboatman Dave Robinson was hosting a family party for 30 guests at his home in Cullercoats. It was the first time for many years Dave, a police officer, had both Christmas Day and Boxing Day off work but when his pager went off at 3pm to alert him that the inshore lifeboat was needed, he did not hesitate.
Dave explained: "A sea angler had got his anchor stuck in the lower Tyne harbour between the Tyne piers and although conditions were OK, the weather was closing in out at sea and the angler thought he would have been be safer remaining inside the piers. We launched the lifeboat and used our winch to release the anchor. Although it wasn't a difficult job, it was important to help the angler quickly before the weather worsened or he started panicking. As an RNLI volunteer crew member, you train for any eventuality and know you can be called out at any time, night or day, even at Christmas. I hope we don’t get called out this Christmas but if we do, the crew will be at the lifeboat station as quickly as ever to help whoever is in trouble at sea."
Now RNLI volunteer crews are hoping that members of the public will respond to their own ‘SOS’ call this Christmas, by supporting the charity in the run up to its biggest day of fundraising, RNLI SOS Day on Friday 29 January 2010.
Anyone can get involved in RNLI SOS Day and have fun on Friday 29 January 2010 and there will be events taking place around the UK and Republic of Ireland, which are open to members of the public. Visit www.rnli.org.uk/sos to find out how you can get involved or to make a donation.
Photo: RNLI all-weather lifeboat by Emyr Rhys Williams