This is an outstanding photo essay of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The photographer is also a crew member of the Torbay lifeboat which may explain why these photographs are so compelling. Any writer or photographer needs a special understanding and identification with the subject to step above the ordinary. Each picture paints a story and what an amazing story each is. HRH Prince William Duke of Cambridge has written the foreword and as an RAF SAR Helicopter pilot based at RAF Valley, he has had direct experience of working with RNLI crews in some testing conditions.
NAME: The Lifeboat, Courage on Our Coasts
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Nigel Millard
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Lifeboats, RNLI, British Isles, Irish Republic, UK, All Weather Lifeboats, Inshore Lifeboats, Hovercraft, Lifeboat Stations
DESCRIPTION: This is an outstanding photo essay of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The photographer is also a crew member of the Torbay lifeboat which may explain why these photographs are so compelling. Any writer or photographer needs a special understanding and identification with the subject to step above the ordinary. Each picture paints a story and what an amazing story each is. HRH Prince William Duke of Cambridge has written the foreword and as an RAF SAR Helicopter pilot based at RAF Valley, he has had direct experience of working with RNLI crews in some testing conditions.
The RNLI formally began operations in the first half of the Nineteenth Century, but was built on the foundations of humane societies and volunteer lifeboats that date back much further, some having their origins in the Sixteenth Century, and perhaps earlier. The first lifeboats were established by communities around the British coasts and the core crews were usually fisherman with a deep knowledge of the coastal waters. They responded to ship wrecks and those in peril at sea in some of the most dangerous conditions. That courage and dedication was supported and focussed by the newly formed RNLI and, as equipment became more sophisticated and costly, there was a growing need to develop funding and support nationally. The original lifeboats were simple open working boats that were mostly launched into the surf from open beaches. The RNLI began to issue specific design requirements to obtain boats that were able to remain afloat after being swamped and being able to right themselves after a knock down or capsize. Although most early lifeboats were open pulling boats, they also had the ability to mount a sail and it was natural that the RNLI would adopt steam power and petrol engines as these became practical methods of propulsion.
Powered lifeboats were generally operated from ports and small harbours around the coast and their greater speed allowed them to cover larger areas and operate in conditions that were very difficult for open pulling boats. However, there continued to be a need for launching lifeboats from open beaches and from rocky coasts. As a result, the RNLI developed launching systems that launched lifeboats through breaking surf and inclined ramps that allowed a lifeboat to launch from a station on a difficult and rocky coast.
Today, the RNLI is about to achieve its ambition to operate a fleet of 20 knot plus lifeboats with the introduction of the new Shannon Class All Weather Lifeboat, propelled by water jets. The Shannon class will be able to operate in very shallow water and to launch across an open beach or from an inclined slipway, or lie afloat in harbour. The nature of the British coasts, including the Irish coasts, may not be served by a single class of lifeboat and the Shannon joins Trent Class and Tyne Class All Weather Lifeboats, a fleet of RIB inshore lifeboats, RIBs for operation inland on rivers lakes and during flooding, and hovercraft to rapidly cross dangerous estuaries and systems of sandbanks. The new and expanding RNLI Lifeguard service also includes body boards and jetskis to assist the lifeguard swimmers.
Having long produced specifications to specialist vessels, the RNLI is now moving to the production of its own lifeboats in its own boatyard, taking their established self-maintenance and refit capabilities to the next logical level. In developing its special lifesaving capabilities, the RNLI has not been slow to assist other countries in the establishment of lifeboat services, providing training assistance and lifeboats retiring from RNLI service or to allow new-build lifeboats to its unique specifications. In future, the RNLI may begin to build lifeboats for other services at its new factory. At the same time, the RNLI has not been slow to learn from others and an exchange program with Australian lifeguards has greatly assisted the rapid expansion of a summer beach lifeguard service.
Perhaps the most incredible part of the story is the army of volunteers who man the boats, raise funds and help in a wide variety of ways to deliver a unique emergency service that is entirely funded by public support rather than being paid for by government from taxation. Although the RNLI is now of such a size that it has to have a large headquarters operation, and that includes fund raisers, each lifeboat station is still semi-autonomous and the pride of the local community in which it is located. Without that local pool of skills and resources, it is doubtful that such a large organization would be able to operate efficiently. Lifeboat stations continue to raise much or all of the funds they need to continue to provide a highly professional service with the very best available equipment.
In recent years, the RNLI has continued to help commercial vessels in danger, but the huge growth has been in providing rescue services to private sailors and those using the sea for leisure. The result is that the introduction of high speed all weather lifeboats has not resulted in a significant reduction in the number of lifeboats stations and in fact the need to provide beach safety has resulted in new facilities being opened. Many all weather lifeboat stations now include one or more RIBs to provide rapid and cost effective inshore cover, leaving the ALBs to respond rapidly under all conditions when a RIB would be unsuitable. There has also been a conversion of some stations to a RIB-only capability, with ALB cover being provided from a neighbouring station. The lifeguard service has required vehicles and jetskis to fill the gap between a RIB and a swimmer. The most impressive recent addition is the hovercraft which operates in the Wash and similar areas where sandbanks and gentling shelving beaches create areas where individuals can be caught off guard by the incoming tide but where there is insufficient water to enable even a shallow draft RIB to reach the casualty in time. In a further expansion of RNLI services, flood relief teams have been established with Land Rover drawn trailers carrying RIBs to rapidly reach flooded areas, and a similar mobility for trailer towed hovercraft.
This is an inspiring and extraordinary story told well in words and impressive images. Not only a book worth buying, but a purchase that also contributes to RNLI funds.