Hunstanton Lifeboat Celebrate their 200th Anniversary

Hunstanton Lifeboat Celebrate their 200th Anniversary
The boathouse at Hunstanton was packed for the special 200th anniversary celebration RNLI/Chris Bishop

Hunstanton RNLI held their celebration on Friday, 28th June at their Old Hunstanton station.

On March 4th, the RNLI celebrated 200 years of saving lives thanks to volunteers giving their time to save others, all funded by public donations. The volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved an incredible 146,277 lives in their history, equating to an average of two lives a day for 200 years. A thanksgiving was held at the Palace of Westminster, where RNLI CEO, Mark Dowie, acknowledged the volunteers who have given so much in saving lives. He said the charity had survived this long simply because of the kindness of people and their donations. He hoped that the RNLI family will continue to inspire generations to come.

The RNLI was formed in a London tavern in 1824 following an appeal by Sir William Hillary who lived on the Isle of Man and had witnessed so many shipwrecks. There are now nearly 250 lifeboat stations around the coast of the UK and Ireland. Two centuries have seen vast developments in the lifeboats and kit used by the charity’s lifesavers – from the early oar-powered vessels to today’s technology-packed boats, which are now built in-house by the charity; and from the rudimentary cork lifejackets of the 1850s to the full protective kit each crew member is now issued with.

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Chairman, Charles le Strange Meakin addresses the audience

Hunstanton RNLI held their own celebration on Friday, 28th June at their Old Hunstanton station. Chairman, Charles le Strange Meakin and Lifeboat Operations Manager, Rigil Kent, led the presentation which also involved crew and volunteers, past and present. Over 100 people attended the event greeted with a glass of fizz on arrival and treated to a buffet in the café - originally the old boat house - afterwards.

There have been some heart warming stories, one of which was relayed to the audience. Twins Daisy and Molly Cole, then aged 12 and their older sister Zoe were left clinging to a marker buoy after they were cut off by the tide at Brancaster in August, 2013. Volunteers from Hunstanton RNLI attended the scene on board the station's hovercraft, arriving just as the tired trio began losing their grip in the fierce incoming tide. Daisy, Molly and Zoe were all plucked from the sea and returned safely to shore by the crew. Their mother, Stacey O’Donnell made an emotional return to meet the crew that saved them recently, with the family meeting long-serving volunteer Vic Dade. Vic, who joined the station as a tractor driver in 1979, was the hovercraft pilot on the day of the rescue. So impressed was Stacey that she undertook to run the London Marathon this year, raising over £3.5k for the RNLI.

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Daisy, Vic, Molly & Zoe

Today's volunteers operate a fast inshore lifeboat and a search and rescue hovercraft, kitted out with state-of-the-art lifesaving equipment.

As well as heroic rescues, the trail-blazing station has notched up notable firsts, including trialling the first tractor to launch its vessels.  Hunstanton also pioneered the use of the hovercraft, while its crew includes the RNLI's first female pilot and first female 'hover commander.

Its early, primitive wooden boats saved many lives in the station's early years, but as activity dwindled between the wars, it was mothballed in 1931. It re-opened after a 48-year hiatus, as tourism boomed on the Norfolk coast.

Alan Clarke, who became its first modern-day helm, told how a new crew was formed to operate Hunstanton's first inshore lifeboat. In a video interview, the decorated volunteer described some of their many rescues - including a runaway speedboat with a dog at the wheel and three men adrift in a motorised bathtub. Then Alan turned to what makes Hunstanton unique - ranging from long hauls across the beach to launch and recover its craft at low tide, to the distances the crew must sometimes travel in all weathers in an open boat or hovercraft to cover their large 'patch', which consists of the 100 square miles of The Wash.

Rigil Kent traced the history of the station's lifeboats, through to today's Atlantic 85Spirit of West Norfolk. Rigil highlighted how concerns about the increasing numbers of people being cut off by the tide around Brancaster between 2018 and 2021, leading to soaring numbers of launches, had led the station to step up its efforts to educate people about the dangers. Call-outs have fallen from 56 in 2020, to 37 in 2022 and 2023.

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Kate Craven

Kate Craven, the station's visits officer and water safety lead, told how outreach volunteers give safety talks at schools and colleges, as well as showing school parties around the station, which is open to the public throughout the summer.

Treasurer, Bob McDonald, outlined the cost of equipping and training the crew, before explaining how generous supporters along with those who leave legacies help keep the people on 'the big orange things' ready to respond 24/7, 365 days of the year.

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Gill and Mandy spoke about their fundraising work

Volunteers from the station's souvenir shop and the Hunstanton and West Norfolk Lifeboat Guild spoke of their fundraising work.

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Crew Assemble: Volunteers staged a dummy 'shout' at Hunstanton RNLI's 200th anniversary celebration, to show what's required to launch one of the station's craft 

Then a pager sounded, before shore and sea-going crew kitted up for a dummy 'shout', with members explaining their different roles when the call comes to launch.

Crew stalwart Andrew Craven was awarded an official Certificate of Thanks from the RNLI by Lifeboat Operations Manager Rigil Kent, in recognition of his dedication to the station.

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Andrew Craven (left) with Rigil Kent

Charles made further reference to and thanked all their supporters. Rigil also talked about the process and methodology behind ‘preparing for action’, - the ‘smeac’ process - delivered by Senior Helm, Dave Cleland (Situation; Mission; Execution; Administration; and Command, Communication & Confirmation). With such high running costs - it costs £3k to just kit out a member of the crew - Hunstanton Lifeboat rely on donations, proceeds from their own fundraising events (the charity golf day raised £40k), souvenir shop proceeds, charity boxes and individuals/organisations that raise money on behalf of the RNLI.

Mark Dowie said of the RNLI, “I am immensely grateful to everyone who is involved with the charity – our volunteers, supporters and staff. This is our watch and it is our role to keep our charity safe and secure so it can continue to save lives into the future, as we strive in our vision to save every one”.

The evening closed with the crew members reciting the RNLI’s 200th anniversary pledge to a rousing round of applause.

To donate to the RNLI please visit .

All images credit RNLI/Chris Bishop

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