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#RNLI - Ireland's RNLI lifeboat crews launched 1,089 times in 2014, bringing 1,414 people to safety.

And the lifesaving charity is calling for the public to think ahead and never underestimate the strength and power of the sea and inland waters as it today releases its 2014 lifeboat launch and rescue statistics, based on detailed returns of service, from each of its 45 lifeboat stations in Ireland.

The figures show more people are getting into difficulty on leisure craft, and the RNLI advises that proper safety advice and maintenance is vital to ensure people stay safe on the water.  



The busiest lifeboat station on the island of Ireland last year was Lough Ree RNLI in Athlone. The charity’s lifeboat crew there launched 69 times and brought 142 people to safety.

This was followed by Howth RNLI, which had 62 launches and brought 107 people to safety, making it their busiest year ever.

Dun Laoghaire RNLI in south Dublin launched 56 times and brought 55 people to safety, while lifeboat crews on the Aran Islands off Galway and Arranmore Island off Donegal launched 78 times, helping 80 people.

Enniskillen RNLI on Lough Erne, which operates two separate lifeboat stations on the upper and lower lough, also had a busy year with 59 calls for assistance and 57 people brought ashore.

Elsewhere in Northern Ireland, Bangor RNLI in Co Down was the busiest single site station, launching 49 times and helping 51 people. Portrush RNLI on the Antrim coast launched their lifeboats 31 times and brought 28 people to safety.

In all, RNLI lifeboats in Northern Ireland launched 261 times in 2014, bringing 281 people to safety, while the charity’s lifeguards helped 284 people on 10 beaches during the season.

Compared to the previous year, when they launched 255 times, NI lifeboat launches show a slight increase. A total of 36 more people were brought to safety by RNLI lifeboats in 2014.



While lifeboat launch figures throughout the island of Ireland remain largely the same as last year, there has been a 10% increase in the amount of people brought to safety by lifeboats.

The types of callouts that the RNLI responded to last year included aid to leisure craft users (536), assistance to fishing vessels (140), help to people who got into difficulty along the shoreline (119) and to people in the water (185).



"These figures are based on every lifeboat station in the RNLI returning a detailed service report and are a valuable insight into what our volunteer lifeboat crews are facing when they launch and what conditions they face," said RNLI operations manager Owen Medland.

"Overall 35% of our lifeboat callouts were carried out in the hours of darkness. Almost half of the callouts last year were to leisure vessels and of these callouts many were to groundings and engine problems.

"Breaking down at sea or on a lough can be a frightening experience. Weather and darkness can turn a bad situation very serious in a matter of minutes. Nobody who sets out thinks anything bad will happen but calling for help early is always the right choice."

Medland continued: "Our volunteer lifeboat and shore crews have shown the commitment and courage we have come to rely on them for, but we must also thank our supporters and fundraisers, who work tirelessly to ensure the charity, which is dependent on donations from the public continues.

"There are also hundreds of employers around the country who let our lifeboat crews drop what they are doing and respond to a callout. We would not be able to run this service without them and we are extremely grateful to them for that."



Last year also saw the introduction of the RNLI’s 45th lifeboat station in Ireland, when Union Hall RNLI in south west Cork went on trial for a 24-month period in November.

And in the coming months, Lough Swilly RNLI in Buncrana, Co Donegal will become the first station in Ireland to receive the new Shannon-class lifeboat.

The €2.4 million lifeboat, which is due to arrive later this year, is the first class of lifeboat to be named after an Irish river, recognition by the charity of the role of Irish lifeboat crews and volunteers throughout the history of the RNLI.

In 2014 the charity marked 190 years of lifesaving and the RNLI is aiming to reduce coastal drowning significantly by 2024.

To do this, it will be expanding its preventative work and will launch Respect the Water, engaging with water users on how to stay safe and maintain their equipment. Water safety advice is available on rnli.org/safety.

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

#Surfing - "Next generation" surfboards are the stock-in-trade of Portrush brothers Chris and Ricky Martin, whose Skunk Works business gets The Irish Times profile treatment this week.

The brothers' company is a first for Northern Ireland, let alone its Coleraine base, but they're taking advantage of a growing thirst for surfing across the island's top surfing spots.

That's particularly strong on the North Antrim coast – home turf of big wave surfer Al Mennie – and the northwest, from Donegal to Sligo, where the biggest waves attract the best in the world.

And the Martins' revolutionary concept – a custom method of manufacturing stronger foam surfboards to withstand the rigours of the waves – is appealing far beyond the North, with the brothers fielding interest internationally from the industry's leading lights.

The Irish Times has much more on the story HERE.

Published in Surfing

#MarineWildlife - A moulting seal pup is in good hands at Northern Ireland's only seal sanctuary after being separated from its mother in Strangford Lough.

As the Belfast Telegraph reports, the pup – one of many orphaned in the lough during bad weather – is being cared for by the experts at the Exploris aquarium and marine wildlife sanctuary in Portaferry, which itself was saved from closure after local councillors agree to a £1 million funding package last autumn.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#Missing - On New Year's Day emergency teams entered the third day of a search and rescue operation on the north Down coast for a woman missing from her Bangor home since Monday 29 December.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, a member of the public reported that the woman – in her early 30s, and believed to have experienced a recent bereavement – had swum out into open water, leaving a bag of clothes at a pier in the town on the southern shore of Belfast Lough.

A major search operation was launched with the coastguard and RNLI lifeboats joined by Lagan Search and Rescue, a fishery patrol and a PSNI helicopter, but this was scaled back on Wednesday to two search boats and a team of coastguard volunteers searching on land.

Elsewhere in Northern Ireland, the search for a missing Monaghan man in Enniskillen entered its 17th day yesterday (2 January), with the Belfast Telegraph highlighting the "extraordinary" level of community support behind the volunteer effort.

Kieran McAree is thought to have entered Lough Erne after abandoning his car in the Fermanagh town in the early hours of 17 December, and now the search is focused on recovering his body.

But even as recently as last weekend more than 300 people joined in the search in their own boats and kayaks to cover a wide area of the lough, with PSNI Constable Gavin Huey telling the Impartial Reporter: "This is the biggest search I have ever witnessed on Lough Erne."

Published in News Update

#MarineWildlife - Northern Ireland may get three more Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) under proposals being put forward by the NI Department of Environment.

As the Belfast Telegraph reports, Rathlin, Outer Belfast Lough and Carlingford Lough could join Strangford Lough as MCZs to provide added protection for vulnerable marine species such as quahog claims and black guillemots.

Other sites at Outer Ards, the Maidens, Foyle, Dundrum, Ardglass Gullies and Red Bay are also being considered as future conservation areas.

But wildlife groups have urged Stormont to provide proper budgets for any new marine protection schemes so that they are more than just "paper parks".

The Belfast Telegraph has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#Tourism - Where's the best place to go surfing or coastal birdwatching in Northern Ireland? The Belfast Telegraph has got you covered.

Benone Strand was previously highlighted on Afloat.ie as a top 'coastal experience' for surfing kids, and it shows up here again in Portrush surfer Al Mennie's list of recommended spots to hit the waves for locals and visitors alike.

Portrush's East Strand and neighbouring Portstewart also feature in his list that's rounded out by two picks for experienced surfers only: Portballintrae – "by far the vest area for surfing on the north coast" – and the legendary Finn MacCool's big wave at the end of the Giant's Causeway.

The causeway also crops up in Ian McCurley's choice spots for birdwatching across NI, in particular for its "colourful stonechats perches on gorse bushes; fulmars in their cliff nest sites; peregrine falcons and gannets."

Another great seabird spotting site is Strangford Lough, which the National Trust woodland and parklands manager describes as "a unique haven for biodiversity, containing many of our rare and most threatened wildlife."

Published in Aquatic Tourism

#Tourism - Northern Ireland's outgoing tourism chief says the likes of Galway Bay are getting too much exposure at the expense of NI coastal landmarks such as the Giant's Causeway in all-Ireland tourism marketing.

And as the Belfast Telegraph reports, Alan Clarke warns that the situation could get worse if Stormont budget cuts hit tourism funding across the region.

Clarke, who is retiring as head of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, opined that "there has always been a tension there" in his relationship with the cross-border Tourism Ireland.

He also said that Northern Ireland "is paying beyond its share" when "we [Northern Ireland] are putting a third of the money in [to Tourism Ireland] and we are getting around 10-11% of the holidaymakers coming to the island."

The NITB chief said the North "needs to get a return on that, and that return needs a more flexible approach by Tourism Ireland in the marketplace" which could see Northern Ireland marketed more as a distinct destination for tourists.

The Belfast Telegraph has more on the story HERE.

Published in Aquatic Tourism
Tagged under

#MarineWildlife - Northern Ireland's National Marine Week kicks off today (Saturday 26 July) with a 'rockpool ramble' at Groomsport in Co Down, the first in a series of marine wildlife themed events around the coast till 10 August.

Ulster Wildlife’s Living Seas staff and volunteers will be sharing their knowledge and expertise to help everyone find out more about the wonderfully varied wildlife found under our coastal waters, from tiny corals and shoals of gleaming fish, to playful seals and massive basking sharks, the world’s second largest fish.

“Many people see the sea simply as a huge expanse of water, but under the surface is a treasure trove of hidden gems, which we depend upon in so many ways," said Jade Berman, Living Seas manager with Ulster Wildlife.

“National Marine Week offers everyone the opportunity to find more to enjoy, more to learn and more to value in the fantastic marine life around our shores. Once they know what’s out there, we have no doubt that many more people will want to see our marine habitats and wildlife properly protected.”

One of the highlights this year is the Whale Workshop roadshow, which stops at Foyleside Shopping Centre for three days from tomorrow (Sunday 27 July) before moving to the Quays Shopping Centre in Newry from 1-4 August.

The Whale Workshop, which has toured internationally, lets the public get up close with life-size replicas of species such as dolphins, porpoise, seals, leatherback turtles, the aforementioned basking shark – and even a minke whale.

A complete list of events for National Marine Week can be found HERE – and if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of one of two humpback whales sighted off the Co Down coast in recent days.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, the first of these sightings last Sunday 20 July was only the fifth record of this species in the Irish Sea in 100 years.

A second spotting of that distinctive tail near the Copeland Islands was compared to the first by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group's (IWDG) Padraig Whooley, who is "fairly confident" they are two different whales, according to his colleague Ian Enlander.

Whooley has much more in a detailed article on the IWDG website HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#RNLI - The RNLI Annual Presentation of Awards took place last Thursday 22 May at London's Barbican Theatre, and in an unusual move the charity departed from the awards ceremony to look at the story behind one particular rescue.

On 18 September last year, Sam Cully's life was saved after the boat he was fishing in sank rapidly in Force 6 winds off the coast of Co Down. 

That day RNLI lifeboat crew from Portaferry and Donaghadee, along with the Irish Coast Guard's helicopter Rescue 116, were involved in his rescue – but there were other groups and organisations behind the story.

While Cully waited for help to arrive, he was able to stay afloat wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) that he had received from a grant-aided scheme funded by the European Fisheries Fund, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Asda, the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation and Seafish.

Last week's awards event saw the RNLI brought everyone who was involved in saving Cully’s life together on one stage for the first time.

At the time of his rescue, Cully commented: "I was only able to swim five or 10 metres or so, and even then the wind and swell were washing me away from the shore.

"The boat went down so quickly, and I was so relieved to find the lifejacket doing exactly what I was told it would do. I cannot thank all those organisations involved enough."

RNLI chairman Charles Hunter-Pease introduced the following groups and organisations who all played a part in the rescue onto the Barbican stage: the Maritime Coast Agency’s Fishing Industry Safety Group, the Northern Ireland Fish Prodcuers Organisation, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the RNLI’s Fishing Safety team, lifejacket and personal floatation manufacturers Mullion, Seafish and the Fisherman’s Mission.

The two RNLI lifeboat crews who responded to the emergency after being alerted by the coastguard were Portaferry and Donaghadee RNLI and they, too, were represented. 

Coxswain Philip McNamara was present from Donaghadee lifeboat station and Portaferty RNLI were represented by deputy launching authority Lennie Lawson, shore crewmember Graham Edgar and lifeboat crew Marko Petrick, Sinead Breen and Paul Mageean.  Luke Murphy, who was also on the lifeboat crew that day, was unable to be present.

Speaking after the event, Donaghadee RNLI coxswain McNamara said: "It was an honour to be present at the ceremony and surrounded by so many people working together to help fishermen stay safe at sea. 

"This was a life saved on the day of the rescue but Sam gave himself every chance by wearing a life jacket and being prepared. Everyone on that stage was a lifesaver."

Poraferry RNLI's Lawson added: ‘It was a very moving occasion. It was lovely to be acknowledged in such good company. So many people work behind the scenes in the RNLI to make sure our lifeboats get to sea and we all do it voluntarily. 

"In this instance the number of people behind the scenes was huge. This scheme has been very important to the fishing community and it shows that by working together we can save lives."

The evening ended with an emotional video tribute by Sam Cully, who then surprised the group on stage and the audience present by coming out with his wife Marie-Clare to thank everyone present in person.

Also honoured on the Barbican stage was Howth RNLI lifeboat operations manager Rupert Jeffares, who received a Bar to the Gold Badge, the second highest honour bestowed by the lifesaving charity.

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

#WaterSafety - HM Coastguard has issued a safety warning over dangerous riptides along Northern Ireland's north coast this week after strong currents claimed one life and put two others at risk.

BBC News reports on the death of 25-year-old Stephen Pentony, who got into difficulty while bodyboarding off the popular surfing hotspot of Portrush in Co Antrim last Friday 16 May.

"These waters are known for rip currents," said Coleraine coastguard Chris Little, who said they "can be a very frightening experience".

Meanwhile, the Londonderry Sentinel has news of a lucky escape for two others in nearby Benone on the same day.

The two men were pulled out to sea on their personal water craft after it malfunctioned, but they managed to reach the shore with some difficulty.

One of the men was later treated in hospital.

Published in Water Safety
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