Leverburgh RNLI lifeboat station officially on the map

Leverburgh coxswains Angus Morrison, left, and Calum MacMillan, with the RNLI tea towel which shows Leverburgh on the map.
Leverburgh coxswains Angus Morrison, left, and Calum MacMillan, with the RNLI tea towel which shows Leverburgh on the map.

The RNLI’s lifeboat station in Leverburgh in the Hebrides is to become permanent following a successful trial, the charity announces today (Thursday 11th April).

The charity’s trustees have given the go-ahead for the station at Leverburgh in the Hebrides to become Scotland’s 46th station. This is the newest all-weather station in Scotland for more than 20 years.

The decision was taken after the lifeboat attended 16 incidents in less than a year, making it one of the busier boats in Scotland, and the dedication of the small community to train as the volunteer crew. The RNLI had estimated between five to 10 shouts annually at Leverburgh.

John MacLean, Leverburgh’s Lifeboat Operations Manager, said today: “From an operational point of view, it is satisfying to know that Leverburgh has been granted permanent status. The central position in the islands, with access to east and west, made it an ideal location.

“The number of ‘shouts’ has been at least up to national average, crew numbers have been maintained in a sparsely populated area, and dedication shown by them for the RNLI cause has been outstanding. It is gratifying to know that the enthusiasm shown and the time dedicated from the start has now been rewarded.”

The station was launched last May to fill a gap in the coastal cover provided by the charity. The nearest stations are at Stornoway, Portree and Barra and they had covered the Sound of Harris area where Leverburgh is situated.

In recent years the RNLI had received representations from the South Harris Community Council for a lifeboat. The growth of offshore fish farms and renewable energy projects, and an increase in leisure craft prompted the call for a new station.

Local fishing boats had been used to resolving mechanical problems amongst themselves, due to the distance from the RNLI’s stations.

A trial station was established on 11 May and by the end of 2012 the volunteers had been called out on 13 occasions.

Leverburgh’s shouts have been varied. They include helping fishing boats, rescuing a family from an island, searching for a missing canoeist, being on standby when a young Minke whale was in the village harbour, rescuing a sheep stuck on a ledge, and being on standby when a body was found at the bottom of cliffs.

The average length of a service has been about 3.5 hours, with the longest taking up to nine hours. There are currently 17 enrolled crew, including one woman and a part-time mechanic. Training has included courses at the RNLI’s Lifeboat College in Poole, visits to Leverburgh from other coxswains and mechanics, and trips to flank stations.

Neil Campbell, chairman of Leverburgh Lifeboat Management Group, said: “The news of confirmation of a permanent RNLI station for  Leverburgh will be warmly welcomed and a fitting reward for the dedication to training by the coxswains and crew.

“Support for the Leverburgh lifeboat has been overwhelming, a sum approaching £30,000 has now been raised for the RNLI over the year since the lifeboat went on station in  May 2012 by the local Branch with support from the wider community including the whole of Harris, Berneray and the Northern half of the Uists.”

The lifeboat station is operated from a portable building and the RNLI has no immediate plans to replace this structure.

Hamish Taylor, honorary president at Leverburgh, said: “In initially building our case for the establishment of a lifeboat at Leverburgh, we were very much aware that the successful operation of all stations depends very much on the support and goodwill of host communities.  

“From the very beginning, the communities of Harris, Berneray and the northern half of the Uists have been supremely supportive of Leverburgh Lifeboat Station and this has had positive benefits not only for the successful operation of the station but also in connecting the communities more closely together in this common purpose.

“As a wholly donation-dependent charity, the RNLI is wholly dependent on contributions from the public, and yet again the communities served by Leverburgh Lifeboat Station have in this first year of operation demonstrated that despite being one of the most economically challenged areas in the United Kingdom, they are also among the most generous.”

Leverburgh has a Mersey class lifeboat, The Royal Thames. The RNLI is going to replace the Mersey class lifeboats with the new Shannon class and therefore Leverburgh may in due course receive a Shannon boat.