The RNLI may close Leverburgh RNLI station if more volunteers can’t be found

A service, which to many of those who live or work in coastal communities is as important as the police, ambulance or fire services faces closure.

Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 4:43 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 7:59 pm
The RNLI’s Shannon class lifeboat is based at Leverburgh, but perhaps not for much longer! Pic by: Nicholas Leitch.

The RNLI boat based at Leverburgh, which is currently off-base for its annual service, may not return if more crew cannot be found to man it 24/7.

For those who are keen to help ensure the sustainability of the station, the following might give some insight into the process of becoming a lifeboat crew member.

The RNLI in Leverburgh has a state-of-the-art Shannon class, all-weather lifeboat (ALB) that uses water jets instead of propellers to manoeuvre.

Having an ALB means that they can accept crew from the age of 17 through to the upper age limit of 65.

To be a crew member and to help ensure a sustainable service (at any station) the RNLI ask that you live within approximately a ten-minute (following speed limits) drive to the lifeboat station.

A spokeswoman said: “Due to varying work patterns we can find that we have challenges with daytime cover. This is seen around the coast of the UK and Ireland where many of our crew can provide evening and weekend cover, when they’re at home, but we still rely on having enough people to keep our lifeboats on service during the day.

“Therefore, if you work/live within a ten-minute drive of Leverburgh and are available during the day, we are especially keen to hear from you. If you live a little outside of this range then please still get in touch, given the current situation we are keen to be more flexible.”

The great news about volunteering is that you don’t have to have any maritime experience – they actively aim to recruit volunteers from all backgrounds. Those who have maritime experience may find that they can progress through the training faster and be signed off as competent crew in as little as 12 months, however this is very much down to the volunteer.

For those with no maritime experience at all, from starting to completing your crew plan could take up to 24 months.

Training to become a fully competent RNLI all-weather lifeboat crew member involves studying and passing around 38 competency-based training modules.

Some of these will be very quick modules that can be completed in the station, others such navigation, search and rescue may take a little longer.

Upon completion of training modules the service expects a period of consolidation at the station to enable you to practice your new found skills before it is then followed up with an assessment.

Part of your training would involve a sea survival module which takes place at the RNLI’s own college in Poole. This course, obviously, requires travel to Poole (expenses covered by RNLI) and takes three days plus travel time.

One of the most regularly asked questions the RNLI get is, ‘when can I go on my first shout’. The minimum training required to receive your pager and attend a callout varies greatly depending on a person’s previous experience, skill level and how much time they can commit to their development plan.

There are a minimum selection of competence units that all trainees need to be trained on and assessed against before being able to go out on a lifeboat. From then on, training can take place at sea and ashore.

Induction from new recruit to fully trained crew member can take anything from 12 – 24 months. From then on you can be called upon to attend at a moment’s notice to help your fellow crew and save lives at sea.

Once you are competent crew, in order to maintain this competence and ensure your safety, you will need to attend a minimum of eight launch exercises per year and a further four exercises or shouts for each role held.

Therefore, attending one exercise per month plus another training evening per month at your station should ensure you maintain your competence rating and are able to respond to your pager.

For many of our volunteers, joining the RNLI brings with it a new way of life – and the whole family is along for the ride. Schedules may need to change, commitments may be missed, and family members may worry about their relative’s safety. This can be hard to get used to and can put pressure on families. But there are ways to manage this and the RNLI has support in place for when things get stressful for everyone involved.

While volunteering at a lifeboat station is a big commitment for the whole family, RNLI volunteers and their families also enjoy many benefits. When you join you do so as part of a close-knit team, gaining world-class training in the different aspects of your role, the satisfaction of helping the local community and great transferable skills.

If this sounds like something that appeals to you and you’re keen to see the Leverburgh station saved, contact: [email protected] for more information.

If you’re not local to Leverburgh but are close to the station in Stornoway they would also like hear from you.