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| South Wales Branch
Visit to the RNLI station in Barry

Colin MacFarlane reports

On 13 April, South Wales Branch members met at the outer harbour of Barry Docks to visit the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Station at Barry.

The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the UK and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames, and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen and Lough Ree. Additionally, the RNLI has more than 1000 lifeguards on over 240 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95% of the charity, including 4600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers raise funds and awareness, provide safety advice and help in the museums, shops and offices.

With the above in mind, the South Wales Branch was met by Barry Station Coxswain Andy Gavin (who had interrupted his birthday celebrations to host us) and Navigator Nigel Parry. After some words of welcome and a brief description of the station and the aims of the RNLI, the group moved to the PPE room. Here, Andy and Nigel provided each member of the group with a lifejacket, which is required to be worn when going on board the boat. Andy described the new protocol of a ‘pre-shout briefing’, which is required to take place prior to launch. This ensures that all crew are fully informed of the nature of the emergency/problem, that the objectives and actions are identified and a risk assessment is carried out. Prior to this, boats were launched without the crew being fully aware of what was happening or their individual roles and responsibilities. Nigel explained that only about 4% of ‘shouts’ are time-critical, ie someone in the water. There is therefore time for pre-briefing, meaning everything is better organised. Even so, Andy noted that the time from the pager going off in a volunteer’s pocket to the launch of the boat is, on average, a mere ten minutes.

Andy then went on to tell the group that Barry Lifeboat Station has 24 crew members: two full-time (a coxswain and mechanic) and 22 non-paid volunteers. Up to seven crew can be on board, but normally a minimum of five is required to launch the offshore Trent class, including the coxswain and mechanic, both whose presence is mandatory. The D-class inflatable requires a minimum of three crew. The station’s all-weather Trent-class boat covers a large area, from the Severn Bridge to the Mumbles. The next nearest boat is at Ilfracombe. The station also covers four commercial docks: Bristol, Newport, Cardiff and Barry, which brings additional demands. Another pressure comes from Barry Island beach, which statistically is the worst beach for lost people, ie it has more reports of lost people than any other beach in the UK!

Barry Station averages about 50 shouts per year; these can include a person in the water, towing boats, being on post at the end of the runway for problem aircraft landing at nearby Cardiff airport, to name just a few.

Next, the group was guided to the boat and with great excitement assembled on board. Andy provided details of the boat, a Trent-class named Inner Wheel II, an all-weather boat that is 14.25 m long with a 4.9 m beam. The group saw the two MAN D2840 LE 401 diesel engines that power the boat and the five watertight compartments. Amazingly, the boat is self-righting. Andy noted that up to 78 survivors can be accommodated on board but, with such numbers, the boat is no longer self-righting!

The boat is some 25 years old but has been retrospectively fitted with an array of advanced technologies and radio equipment, including Navtex multi-frequency, marine very-high-frequency and digital selective calling (DSC) installations. For navigation, the crew utilises an array of the latest equipment, including differential global positioning system (DGPS) equipment and a systems and information management system (SIMS). This cutting-edge technology is an electronic integrated bridge system that allows the crew to monitor, operate and control many of the lifeboat’s functions directly from their shock-absorbing seats. These functions include: the navigation of the lifeboat, including direction finding, radar and charting; radio communications and CCTV; and the mechanics of the lifeboat, including the engines, bilge and electrics.

Nigel is a navigator and he noted that the navigator does not rely on the electronics alone. The ‘old school’ method of pencil and paper charts is always employed.

With a nod to the NDT world, Nigel detailed the training required, including a residential course at a college based in Poole, followed by a minimum number of on-the-job training hours before being signed off by the coxswain, if he/she is satisfied that the candidate has met the requirements. Individuals must complete a minimum of 12 exercises per year for each ‘approval’ held. In Nigel’s case, that is crew and navigator, meaning a minimum of 12 exercises as crew and 12 as navigator. In addition, each must requalify every three years. As this was described, we had to remind ourselves that these are volunteers who sacrifice their home life and risk their lives to ensure the safety of others.

The Branch would like to express its gratitude to Nigel Parry and Andy Gavin for a very inspiring, enthralling and enjoyable visit.