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End of an Era at Wicklow RNLI as Station Mechanic Brendan Copeland Retires

2nd June 2022
Brendan Copeland has retired after 31 years service at Wicklow RNLI
Brendan Copeland has retired after 31 years service at Wicklow RNLI Credit: RNLI/Tommy Dover

This week marks the end of an era at Wicklow RNLI as long-serving crew member and station mechanic Brendan Copeland officially retires from saving lives at sea.

Brendan’s last day started with a trip to Dun Laoghaire Harbour to bring Wicklow RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat back to station after a lift-out and hull clean.

While the lifeboat was departing Dun Laoghaire for Wicklow, a call came in regarding a motor cruiser that had suffered engine failure in Dublin Bay.

As Wicklow RNLI’s lifeboat was close by and the motor cruiser was drifting in busy shipping lanes and a danger to traffic at Dublin Port, the lifeboat diverted to assist and was on scene in minutes.

A tow line was quickly established and the cruiser was towed to the nearest safe port of Dun Laoghaire, where its occupants were safely landed ashore.

The crew then returned to Wicklow and Brendan quietly retired after 31 years with the RNLI, helping to save 23 lives and assisting over 334 people.

Brendan, a former lighthouse keeper with The Commissioners of Irish Lights, joined Wicklow RNLI as a volunteer in 1991. In the early years he served on both the all-weather and inshore lifeboats as a crew member and emergency mechanic. In 2007, Brendan was appointed Wicklow RNLI’s full-time station mechanic, a position he held for the last 15 years.

His role involved a wide range of duties that included maintaining the Tyne class lifeboat, Annie Blaker, a labour of love he continued up to 5 April 2019 when she was officially retired as the last operating Tyne class lifeboat in the RNLI fleet.

At the time, former lifeboat operations manager Des Davitt said: “I want to pay a special thanks to our station mechanic Brendan Copeland who looked after Annie so well for all these years. Her incredible life-saving record is a measure of how well she was maintained.”

When asked in April 2019 how he felt prior to Annie Blaker launching for the final time at Wicklow, Brendan replied: “You’re asking me if I’m sad or emotional today? I’m more than that, I’m heartbroken, to borrow a quote used for the Blasket Islanders, ‘the likes will never be seen again’.”

While the Tyne lifeboat had twin propellors with a top speed of 18 knots, the new modern Shannon class lifeboat which was to follow is capable of 25 knots and considered the fastest and most technologically advanced in the RNLI fleet.

To prepare for the arrival of the Shannon class, Brendan and a panel of mechanics travelled to Poole for training on the new jet-propelled lifeboat powered by two Scania engines. The training paid off and with great determination and huge commitment from Brendan and the crew, the Shannon went on service much quicker than anticipated.

Brendan has gone to sea on countless callouts during his time with the lifeboat and one shout that stands out to him occurred in the early hours of 22 March 2013 after a fishing vessel with three crew lost power and was in danger of being washed ashore east of Wicklow Head.

He recalled: “Annie was launched, and I can honestly say as we went around the pier the sea was boiling. We managed to get a line to the boat which was larger than Annie and towed it back to Wicklow; it felt like we were in a teapot that was being shook to make the tea stronger.”

For their actions in bringing the vessel and three crew to safety, Brendan and the crew received a letter of commendation from RNLI operations director Michael Vlasto.

Brendan took part in his last afloat exercise on the lifeboat last Saturday 28 May with his volunteer team deciding to mark this milestone for their much-loved mechanic, who has been a mentor, friend and the backbone of Wicklow RNLI for many years.

As the Wicklow lifeboat returned to station, a flotilla of local boats and Arklow RNLI’s lifeboat accompanied Brendan into Wicklow Harbour.

From the east pier the arrival was witnessed by a large turnout made up of Brendan’s family, friends and his lifeboat family, while a lone piper played as the boat passed and the Dublin based Coast Guard helicopter made a flypast.

As the lifeboat reached the south quay berth, local emergency services lined up in a guard of honour and sounded their sirens as the lifeboat passed. Brendan was overwhelmed and thanked everyone.

Commenting on Brendan’s retirement, Mary Aldridge, Wicklow RNLI lifeboat operations manager said: “The crew and I wish you and Betty all the happiness in the world on your well-deserved retirement. You have provided excellent service as a community lifesaver with the RNLI since 1991; you will be severely missed at the station.”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
Afloat.ie Team

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Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) in Ireland Information

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a charity to save lives at sea in the waters of UK and Ireland. Funded principally by legacies and donations, the RNLI operates a fleet of lifeboats, crewed by volunteers, based at a range of coastal and inland waters stations. Working closely with UK and Ireland Coastguards, RNLI crews are available to launch at short notice to assist people and vessels in difficulties.

RNLI was founded in 1824 and is based in Poole, Dorset. The organisation raised €210m in funds in 2019, spending €200m on lifesaving activities and water safety education. RNLI also provides a beach lifeguard service in the UK and has recently developed an International drowning prevention strategy, partnering with other organisations and governments to make drowning prevention a global priority.

Irish Lifeboat Stations

There are 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland, with an operational base in Swords, Co Dublin. Irish RNLI crews are tasked through a paging system instigated by the Irish Coast Guard which can task a range of rescue resources depending on the nature of the emergency.

Famous Irish Lifeboat Rescues

Irish Lifeboats have participated in many rescues, perhaps the most famous of which was the rescue of the crew of the Daunt Rock lightship off Cork Harbour by the Ballycotton lifeboat in 1936. Spending almost 50 hours at sea, the lifeboat stood by the drifting lightship until the proximity to the Daunt Rock forced the coxswain to get alongside and successfully rescue the lightship's crew.

32 Irish lifeboat crew have been lost in rescue missions, including the 15 crew of the Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) lifeboat which capsized while attempting to rescue the crew of the SS Palme on Christmas Eve 1895.

FAQs

While the number of callouts to lifeboat stations varies from year to year, Howth Lifeboat station has aggregated more 'shouts' in recent years than other stations, averaging just over 60 a year.

Stations with an offshore lifeboat have a full-time mechanic, while some have a full-time coxswain. However, most lifeboat crews are volunteers.

There are 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland

32 Irish lifeboat crew have been lost in rescue missions, including the 15 crew of the Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) lifeboat which capsized while attempting to rescue the crew of the SS Palme on Christmas Eve 1895

In 2019, 8,941 lifeboat launches saved 342 lives across the RNLI fleet.

The Irish fleet is a mixture of inshore and all-weather (offshore) craft. The offshore lifeboats, which range from 17m to 12m in length are either moored afloat, launched down a slipway or are towed into the sea on a trailer and launched. The inshore boats are either rigid or non-rigid inflatables.

The Irish Coast Guard in the Republic of Ireland or the UK Coastguard in Northern Ireland task lifeboats when an emergency call is received, through any of the recognised systems. These include 999/112 phone calls, Mayday/PanPan calls on VHF, a signal from an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or distress signals.

The Irish Coast Guard is the government agency responsible for the response to, and co-ordination of, maritime accidents which require search and rescue operations. To carry out their task the Coast Guard calls on their own resources – Coast Guard units manned by volunteers and contracted helicopters, as well as "declared resources" - RNLI lifeboats and crews. While lifeboats conduct the operation, the coordination is provided by the Coast Guard.

A lifeboat coxswain (pronounced cox'n) is the skipper or master of the lifeboat.

RNLI Lifeboat crews are required to follow a particular development plan that covers a pre-agreed range of skills necessary to complete particular tasks. These skills and tasks form part of the competence-based training that is delivered both locally and at the RNLI's Lifeboat College in Poole, Dorset

 

While the RNLI is dependent on donations and legacies for funding, they also need volunteer crew and fund-raisers.

© Afloat 2020

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