Thursday 19 July 2018

Meet the fearless volunteers who may one day save your life at sea

THEY battle the toughest seas and respond to any distress calls - no matter what the conditions.

Recently I joined some of the 28 dedicated volunteers of Dun Laoghaire RNLI on their weekly Monday night training exercises in Dublin Bay to see them in action.

Last year, the crew here rescued 67 people during 58 call-outs, making it the busiest of the organisation's 44 national stations.

The RNLB Anna Livia is almost 20 years old - not that you would realise it, thanks to dedicated mechanic Kieran O'Connell. It is capable of speeds of up to 25 knots.

Dun Laoghaire also has a smaller Inshore lifeboat (ILB) named the Realt na Mara which holds three people and has an endurance of three hours.


While 80pc of those who get involved with the RNLI have no professional maritime background, most of the volunteers have grown up with some sea experience.

"Mostly people get involved because they have an interest in boats, but it's more an opportunity to do something worthwhile," said the station's coxswain, Dave Brannigan.

It takes around €1,500 a year to train a volunteer, and training takes place repeatedly regardless of how long the volunteer has been involved.

"The RNLI makes a huge investment in training, but they definitely do get that back in the quality of volunteers that we have," said Niamh Stephenson.

There is a dedicated college in Poole, England, that all volunteers attend for training at least once during their time with the charity.

"The training is extremely intensive, sometimes you would be out almost the whole night," said volunteer Rob Landers.

When an emergency at sea occurs, the Irish Coast Guard who receive the 999 call notify the nearest RNLI stations who immediately page their volunteers.

"The first six volunteers that turn up will go to sea, it all happens really fast. We try and 
get a crew here within about six or seven minutes, get a boat launched and then 10 to 12 minutes to get out. It all happens very quickly indeed," said Miguel Walker.

In general, the summer months tend to be much busier for Dun Laoghaire.

A high-profile rescue occurred last August during a local regatta, when Dun Laoghaire RNLI working with Howth RNLI rescued six people after their boat capsized and they were left clinging to the upturned hull.

On a more light-hearted note, volunteers recently rescued a giant Mickey Mouse balloon after a brief search.

The RNLI, founded in 1824, is 190 years old this year and is entirely unaffiliated to any other organisation.


The charity that operates in both Ireland and Britain does not receive government funding and is completely reliant on charitable donations.

"We are very lucky to be able to provide the service that we do in the climate of cuts in the last few years," said Niamh.

During the training exercise I went on, which involved a mock rescue on the West Strand of Dun Laoghaire, it was clear that the actions involved were completely second-nature to the volunteers.

Nevertheless, the men I spoke to admitted that going out to sea was always daunting.

"You're always scared when you go out on rescues, but if it wasn't for the training you would be absolutely terrified," said Craig Kane. "At the same time, you get conditioned and there is a sense of security on board - it's all teamwork."


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