Station celebrates 150 years of saving lives

TYNEMOUTH’S Royal National Lifeboat Institution station is celebrating 150 years of saving lives at sea.

Tegan Chapman took to the high seas with its current crew to see first hand the hard work carried out by the volunteers keeping up a proud tradition.

The Tynemouth Offshore lifeboat on exercise in the North Sea and around St Mary's Island.

The Tynemouth Offshore lifeboat on exercise in the North Sea and around St Mary's Island.

SINCE 1862, a steady stream of willing volunteers have given up their time to help bring stranded surfers and swimmers and stricken vessels safely back to shore.

Over the 150-year history of Tynemouth RNLI station, successive generations of crews have battled all kinds of weather to carry out life-saving heroics round the clock.

They are the emergency service of the sea, and they do what they do with enthusiasm, fuelled by a love of the ocean wave and a desire to help people in need.

Over the years, the lifeboats used and the station itself might have changed and evolved, but the dedication of its crew members, all working for the RNLI voluntarily in their spare time, has been one constant.

Ian Black, of Tynemouth, is deputy coxswain on the station’s all-weather lifeboat and helmsman of its inshore lifeboat.

A firefighter by day, the 49-year-old has been a crew member for 15 years.

“I think this is something I can relate to, because of my job,” he said.

“I’ve always enjoyed boats and being on the water, so it was just something I’d always wanted to do.

“The most common type of shout is to broken-down boats requiring a tow, but it can be varied.

“Last week, we were called to a boat that was taking in water, and it was just minutes from sinking.

“I went aboard with a salvage pump to try and stem the water entering, and I had to go into the engine room to plug the leaks. It would have sank if we hadn’t been there.”

Volunteers come from all walks of life, and many of the crew have connections with the sea through their personal lives or regular jobs.

All, however, are committed to providing emergency cover 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.

Brian McDonald, 52, of North Shields, is second station mechanic, and has been a crew member for ten years.

“I have had boats of my own, so when I gave them up, it just made sense for me to work on the lifeboat,” said the 52-year-old.

“I have been on hundreds of rescues, and I love being part of the team.

“The best part of the job is helping people. It’s the main reason people join up.”

Tynemouth was the station used for the first experimental motor lifeboat in 1905. It was destroyed by German bombs during the Second World War, in April 1941, but reopened six months later.

Over the last 150 years, Tynemouth’s lifeboat crews have been called out more than 1,860 times, bringing more than 1,573 to shore and saving 884 lives.

Crew members have picked up 22 bravery medals over the years – two gold, 15 silver and five bronze – but they don’t class what they do as heroism, just something that they love doing.

Crew members undergo rigorous training before being able to go out on rescues and have a year-long probation period before being classed as fully-trained crew.

Kelly O’Sullivan, 32, of Tynemouth, is one of the station’s newest recruits.

“I’ve been involved with the lifeboat for about a year now, but I am still learning,” said the Gateshead Council worker.

“I don’t have a marine background, but when I moved to the coast, I just wanted to do something to help, and this seemed like a logical way to help out.

“We exercise every Monday evening and run through various drills. This might involve towing, anchoring, navigation or first aid.”

Last week’s exercise provided an opportunity for Kelly to have a go at driving the inshore boat, as well as for other crew to simulate real-life rescues and practise anchoring.

Come rain or shine, the volunteer crew members of Tynemouth RNLI will be back next Monday to train again, to ensure they are ready for every eventuality the sea throws at them.

I only glimpsed a small slice of what these people do day in and day out, but it was an eye-opening experience.

For the last 150 years, the volunteers have been the backbone of the lifeboat service, and with any luck, they’ll still be here in 2162 to look after those suffering misfortunes at sea.