Records held in the archives of Bangor lifeboat station indicate that a lifeboat in Belfast Lough was first established at Groomsport in 1858, following the wrecking of a vessel near Bangor, with the loss of all the crew and in full view of local people standing on the shore.
Groomsport lifeboats launched 55 times and saved 87 lives over a period of 62 years from 1858 to 1920, when the station was closed.
It was reported that the number of lifeboat services were not more numerous due to the great number of fisherman and pilots in the area "of a fine and hardy type, who are not slow to risk their lives in their own boats, in which they have great confidence."
Some 45 years after the closure of Groomsport Lifeboat Station, an ever-increasing demand for lifesaving services along the coast led to considerations of re-establishing a lifeboat service in the Belfast Lough area.
Under the guidance of Ernie Hay, the first honorary secretary and North Down Borough Council officer, the RNLI chose to place a D-Class inflatable lifeboat at Bangor Harbour, opening for business on 15 May 1965.
With the co-operation of North Down Borough Council, the lifeboat was stored in the Tower House yard and was launched on a trolley at the slipway beside the old Harbour Masters Office. The co-operation between North Down Borough Council and the RNLI has continued without a break since those times.
The service of the lifeboat continued under the care of local volunteers and the demands put upon her volunteer crew increased year on year. Successive honorary secretaries managed the operational demands and the branch fundraising committee and ladies’ guild worked hard behind the scenes, raising the funds to cover operational costs. Over 40 local businesses also contributed to the funds by maintaining collecting boxes on their premises.
In 1984, following the construction of the Eisenhower Pier, North Down Borough Council built a new boathouse and slipway, which allowed for the subsequent upgrading of the boat to an Atlantic 21 class lifeboat, the then ‘Rolls Royce’ of fast inshore lifeboats.
The Youth of Ulster, a new boat funded by local donations, was put on station in 1990 and was formally named by HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex in 1991.
In 2002 the RNLI invested £250,000 in building a new boathouse and crew facilities on a site kindly granted by North Down Borough Council. This boathouse was designed to accommodate the latest class of fast response inshore lifeboat.
Bangor RNLI celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2005 and, as a reflection of its fine service record since its foundation, in 2006 Bangor took delivery of the first Atlantic 85 class lifeboat in Ireland, the Jessie Hillyard. The new class of fast response inshore lifeboat costing over £120,000 was made possible through a legacy from Eileen Freeman in memory of her late mother Jessie Hillyard.
That same year, Bangor RNLI was the busiest lifeboat station out of all the 43 stations in Ireland, launching 53 times. From 2007 RNLI Bangor Lifeboat has been the busiest lifeboat out of the eight coastal stations in Northern Ireland.
Since the foundation of the station 50 years ago, over 110 local people have served as crew members. To date, over the years, Bangor lifeboats have launched 1,252 times, rescued over 1,000 people and saved 191 lives.
Everyone connected with Bangor RNLI – the crew, station management, fundraisers and helpers – are all volunteers, giving freely of their time, braving all weathers, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help save life at sea.
Currently there are 20 crew members, male and female, from all walks of life including, among others, a council officer, a restaurateur, a plumber, a solicitor, a care worker, a satellite television engineer, a lorry driver and an orthopaedic surgeon.
RNLI volunteers continue to support annual seafront events, raise funds for other RNLI lifeboats and local organisations and, for 50 years, have played a vital part in Bangor’s maritime and community affairs.