Regardless of gale force winds, rough seas, icy conditions or turkey-laden plates, the UK's Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) volunteer crews will be ready to leave family and festivities behind to rescue those in danger in the seas around Britain this Christmas. Not only are there many volunteers, even the organisation receives no government funding
Mablethorpe RNLI on a cold winter’s day. Snow can be seen on the deck.
Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year period, RNLI volunteers launched lifeboats 106 times, with 59 per cent of rescues taking place during the hours of darkness.
Last year RNLI volunteer crews across the UK and Ireland gave up priceless family time at Christmas spending a total of 619 hours at sea, covering 849 nautical miles to help people in difficulty, including searching for people who had gone missing and assisting those stranded on broken down vessels in rough seas.
The number of call-outs during the Christmas season continues to rise and in the last six years alone RNLI volunteer crews have been called upon 605 times and rescued 320 people. RNLI volunteer crews will be ready to drop everything 24 hours a day this Christmas, not only at sea, but also inland; volunteers for the RNLI’s Flood Rescue Team will also be on standby and ready to assist people should heavy rainfall cause flooding. Additionally, RNLI crew at Gravesend, Chiswick and Tower Lifeboat Stations will continue to cover the busy and cold waters of the River Thames.
RNLI Operations Director, Michael Vlasto comments: ‘It never ceases to amaze me that the families of our 5,000 volunteer crew and shorehelpers remain as committed to saving lives at sea during this traditional family festive time of year as the volunteers themselves. This dedication to helping others is at the very heart of the charity – even in these difficult economic times our volunteers put others before themselves time and again. Not forgetting our army of fundraisers who continue with their efforts through the winter months attending all manner of outdoor events, and our supporters who continue to donate. It is an appropriate time of year to recognise this commitment and to say 'thank you' on behalf of those who have been rescued.’
At lunchtime on Christmas day last year, the pagers went off for the RNLI Littlehampton’s volunteer lifeboat crew. A dog had leapt into the water and become stranded on the shingle bank at the harbour entrance. Nick White, RNLI Littlehampton Lifeboat Operations Manager said: ‘As always with these shouts our main concern is that the owners don’t put their own lives at risk by jumping in to rescue their pets. The River Arun runs very quickly and the harbour entrance is particularly treacherous. Additionally, the water is extremely cold at this time of year.’
The crew postponed plans for their Christmas lunch to rescue the dog and reunited it with its very grateful owner. Nick continues: ‘The owner was so pleased and explained that if we hadn’t been there that day she would have gone in to rescue the dog, as she didn’t know how she would be able tell her children on Christmas day that their pet had drowned.’
‘The RNLI receives no UK Government funding and, as a charity, depends on voluntary donations. Thanks to public support through fundraising events like RNLI SOS Day, our volunteer lifeboat crews receive the best training and equipment to help them go on saving lives whether at sea, on rivers or lochs, or on flooded high streets.’
RNLI volunteer crews are sending out their own ‘SOS’ call this Christmas, encouraging members of the public to support the charity’s biggest day of fundraising, RNLI SOS Day on Friday 28 January 2011. Visit www.rnli.org.uk/sos to find out how you can get involved or to make a donation.