You might expect that the launch of the lifeboat is triggered by a call from the Coastguard followed by the crew pagers being activated. That is partly true but there is more to it than that, checks are needed to make sure that the right boat is launched with the best crew for the shout and that the Coxswain has the best possible brief on what the shout is about.
Following a call to the Coastguard from a member of the public the Coastguard will search for the nearest station to the location of the incident. As the Coastguard is no longer locally based some local knowledge is required before the request to launch is confirmed. The Coastguard will page the Torbay Launch Authority, (LA). The Launch Authority consists of a team of 6 people, including the Lifeboat Operations Manager, operating on a rota basis so there is always one of the team available to respond. The LA will then ring the Coastguard and have a brief, about 2 minutes, discussion on the location and nature of the incident and relevance to launch a Torbay lifeboat.
The LA will then contact the duty Coxswain to discuss the potential job and at the same time will page the crew. The Torbay station operates a 24 hour crew so all the crew members will receive the pager call. They are able to respond, yes or no, to the pager call depending on circumstances. By this time the Coxswain and LA will have agreed which boat or maybe both boats will launch.
As the crew start arriving the Coxswain and/or ILB helmsman will pick their crew. If it looks like a long or difficult shout a more experienced team may be needed. If less onerous it maybe an opportunity to give newer crew members more experience. All the crew have received a very high standard of casualty care training so there is always medical experience on board. An emergency doctor is available on the crew if it is expected to be needed. The ILB has a crew of two plus the helmsman and the ALB a crew of five plus the Coxswain. To ensure that the boats are always able to respond to an incident with a full crew the station aims to operate with a trained crew base of between 25 and 30 people.
While the crew are kitting up the tractor driver will be manoeuvring the ILB to the waters edge and/or the mechanic or deputy mechanic will be preparing the ALB. As the ALB is connected to shore power on her pontoon she is kept partially ‘warmed up’ and ready to go.
Once the boat, or boats, leave their berth control of the shout passes from the LA to the Coxswain who will contact the Coastguard for a situation update. The Coastguard may have more information or changes from the original call.
All this looks like a long winded process but bear in mind that the aim is to be launched within 8 to 10 minutes of the initial phone call!
It is easy to forget that there is a much larger team than just the six people you will see on the ALB when she leaves the harbour, and, apart from the full time Coxswain and Mechanic, the rest of the team are all volunteers.
This article was written by our Lifeboat Operations Manager Nick O’Brien & our RNLI Engagement Ambassador for Torbay David Phillips, for the ‘Torbay Weekly’.