Robert Wright, second coxswain of Pwllheli Lifeboat, died during s rescue. (Pic: RNLI).
Hero volunteers who put their own lives on the line to save the lives of others have twice been featured in the blog in recent weeks – and I make absolutely no apology for returning to the subject again.
This time, however, the focus of my attention is moving from mountain rescue teams to the equally dedicated and just as courageous volunteer crews who man the lifeboats that operate around the UK’s shores.
Members of one crew are this week mourning the death of one of their own. During a rescue operation on Sunday evening, Robert Wright, second coxswain of the Pwllheli lifeboat in North Wales, died after suffering a suspected heart attack.
He was taken ill soon after the lifeboat was launched. He was given treatment by the highly trained crew and then airlifted to hospital where, sadly, it was confirmed that he had died.
Mr Wright had been a crew member since 1970 and, as coxswain, led the Pwllheli crew from 1992 until 2013. He was made an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2008 for his services to the RNLI and the community.
He came from a family steeped in lifeboat service as Cliff Thomas, the local lifeboat operations manager, explained: “Bob was a loyal, committed and strong personality. His father and grandfather both served before him and his great uncle was coxswain at the beginning of the 1900s. The sea was in his blood.”
The UK’s lifeboats are not government-funded. They are operated by the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) which is a charity and depends on contributions to fund its considerable expenditure. Indeed, it costs over £140 million each year to run its lifesaving service – all funded by generous supporters.
With 236 lifeboat stations and an active fleet of more than 340 craft, the RNLI can reach people in all kinds of situations and locations. Proof of this can be seen by the fact that last year more than 10,000 people were rescued,
So, what’s it like being a lifeboat crew member?
Imagine for a moment that you’re part of the crew on a lifeboat. It’s 2.30 on a freezing January morning and the pager has just woken you from a deep sleep in a snug warm bed. You then head out to sea in complete darkness with 10m waves rising and falling around you, ready to swamp you at any moment. Strong gale force winds throw the lifeboat around like a toy. A fishing trawler is in difficulties 23 miles out to sea.
Being part of a lifeboat crew is a major commitment, which could include risking your life. Your commitment isn’t only measured in the time spent involved in rescues. Increasingly, new equipment and faster boats mean that regular training programmes also account for much of your spare time. You may also be asked to help show visitors around the station and with local fundraising.
The RNLI provides first class training and equipment, guidance and support. Volunteers are offered the opportunity to make a difference in their local community, to save lives and be part of the larger RNLI family.
It is, without doubt, one of the most exciting and fulfilling, not to mention dangerous, volunteer roles available.
All members of the lifeboat crews are worthy of being called ‘brave’ and so many people have reason to be grateful for the prompt and professional actions of volunteers, like Robert Wright, who have saved their lives.