Larne Lifeboat Station celebrates 20 years of lifesaving missions

Volunteers at Larne Lifeboat Station have spoken of their pride at being part of the organisation as it approaches its twentieth anniversary.

Since the Olderfleet Road station’s foundation in 1994, the lifeboat has rescued 368 people, launching almost 400 times and saving 31 lives. The permanent station has two lifeboats: the D-class inshore lifeboat, named the Hannnahbella Ferguson, and the Trent class all-weather lifeboat, the Dr John McSparran.

Larne RNLI crew members (from left) Catherine Callaghan, Samantha Agnew, Fiona Kirkpatrick and Pamela Dorman. INLT 39-012-PSB

Larne RNLI crew members (from left) Catherine Callaghan, Samantha Agnew, Fiona Kirkpatrick and Pamela Dorman. INLT 39-012-PSB

The 29 crew members hail from a variety of professions, including teachers, students, firemen, policemen and a pharmacist. Their role is to provide an on-call 24-hour search and rescue service around the East Antrim area. Volunteers undergo intensive training in order to become a crew member.

Lifeboat Operations Manager Allan Dorman told The Times: “It gives great satisfaction to work with a crew who are so dedicated to the RNLI’s purpose, which is to save lives at sea. Crew members are trained both on station and at the RNLI headquarters in Poole. This training ensures that the crew can carry out tasks under pressure quickly and effectively.”

Coxswain Frank Healy has volunteered at the Larne station since its inception two decades ago, racking up over 1,000 training hours in the process. He stated: “Being part of the lifeboat is really rewarding. Ultimately there are people who are still alive because of the good work done by everyone at Larne Lifeboat Station.”

Second Coxswain Martin Agnew, a member of Larne lifeboat for 19 years, added: “It is all-consuming-for example, volunteers need to live within a 10 minute travelling distance, 11 minutes for the all-weather boat, otherwise you can’t make a shout. You’re always on call-your time isn’t all your own. When Frank is off duty, if he wants to go out of town he has to make sure there is someone there to deputise in case of a shout. You work your life around it but it becomes natural.”

During their time at Larne RNLI, the three men have been involved in hundreds of rescues, which range from assisting frightened families in difficulty to aiding commercial vessels. Recalling his most memorable rescues, Frank revealed: “Last December we towed a 54-metre salmon pumping boat near the Mull of Kintyre. We got the call of midnight that one of the crew was injured-the tow reel had broken off the boat and the vessel was going ashore. We towed that boat for five hours at a speed of four miles per hour. I came back at 7.30am, got changed and went to work. Needless to say, I didn’t need rocked to sleep that night!”

“There was also another memorable rescue around 18 years ago and when we came back to shore a photographer from the Belfast Telegraph happened to be there and took our picture. My father was working in Derry and didn’t know anything about it. He went into a shop with a friend to buy a paper and my picture was on the front page-when he went to the till to pay his friend told the shopkeeper: ‘that’s his son.’ My father said that was one of the proudest days of his life.”

In recognition of the lifesaving work undertaken by Larne RNLI, the station has been honoured with four rare ‘letters of thanks’ from the RNLI. Alan continued: “In 20 years we have had four letters of thanks-three of which came in 2013 alone during a seven month period. It’s something we are very proud of.”

In addition to the crew’s lifesaving missions, there have also been a few false alarms. Martin laughed: “On one occasion we went out for what they thought was a blue raft-it turned out to be a plastic drum from Portrush raft race! Then there was an incident where we received a report of a jet ski-it turned out to be a big pile of heart-shaped helium balloons which had deflated five miles out to sea!”

From their unique vantage point, the crew have also been able to appreciate the beauty and power of the sea. Frank remembered: “Once we saw a basking shark the size of a lorry go under the boat-it was bigger than the boat! We have also seen dolphins and killer whales off Garron Point.”

The three men describe Larne RNLI as a family, with their involvement as a ‘way of life.’ This influence has now extended to a new generation, with Alan’s son Christopher holding the position of Second Coxswain, and his daughter Pamela a crew member in charge of the helm on the all-weather lifeboat. Martin’s daughter is also a crew member, and Frank’s son Jack is eagerly awaiting the day when he is old enough to join. Alan’s daughter Pamela explained: “I was brought up around the sea. It felt natural to join the organisation and help people who are out on the sea and who get into difficulties. It becomes a big part of your life-I could never imagine leaving it. We’re just like a big family in Larne-I have more brothers than I ever had! You always know that when you’re out on a shout there’ll be somebody behind you.”

Larne RNLI will hold its open day at Olderfleet Road station on Saturday September 27 from 1pm-4pm. The event will include tours of the station, the inshore lifeboat on display, a virtual tour of the all-weather lifeboat, sea safety information, free lifejacket testing, a coastguard display trailer, RNLI lifeguards and the opportunity to try on the gear. There will also be inflatables, face painting, a BBQ and refreshments.

Check out our video interview with the RNLI Larne crew online at www.larnetimes.co.uk, and don’t forget to read next week’s feature on Larne lifeboat, only in the Larne Times.