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Donaghdee RNLI Lifeboat Crew Rescues Fishing Trawler in Difficulty and 'Unsure of Location'

25th April 2024
Donaghadee RNLI Lifeboat launched to assist a trawler in difficulty and unsure of its location
Donaghadee RNLI Lifeboat launched to assist a trawler in difficulty and unsure of its location

In the early hours of Thursday 25 April, the volunteer RNLI lifeboat crew from Donaghadee lifeboat station received a call from HM Coastguard to launch a rescue mission. A 40ft fishing trawler with one person onboard had contacted the Coastguard to report that they had no electrics, although they did have power and steering. The skipper was not confident of their location and thought they may be in Belfast Lough. 

The Coastguard activated the pagers of the Donaghadee lifeboat crew to request them to launch. With a crew of seven onboard RNLI lifeboat Macquarie, the team was underway seven minutes later. The sea state was calm, and there was a light westerly wind, allowing them to make full speed in the general direction of the trawler's last reported location, just north of Portpatrick.

As the trawler had no electrics, it also had no navigation lights, leaving the boat with its skipper at risk of not being visible to a larger vessel at sea and restricting its own visibility. The Coastguard liaised with the crew on the lifeboat and reported an up-to-date rough latitude and longitude from the fishing trawler, enabling them to have a more accurate direction to take.

Iain Kaleda, mechanic onboard the lifeboat, was able to establish both phone contact and later VHF contact with the skipper. As the skipper had a handheld VHF onboard, this allowed the crew of the lifeboat to use their direction-finding equipment to gain a more exact location for the trawler.

At 3:15 a.m., the vessel was located approximately 18 miles north of Donaghadee. The crew established that the skipper was safe and well. It was agreed that, given that he still had no electrics, it was best that they escorted him to the safety of Bangor marina.

However, at approximately 5.30 am, the trawler lost engine power, and with still quite a way to go to the safety of the marina, and given the danger to both the vessel and other shipping in the area, the coxswain of the lifeboat decided that it was best to secure a towline to the fishing trawler and tow it with its skipper to safety. 

After towing for about an hour, the lifeboat and the casualty vessel arrived at the safety of Bangor marina, where they were met by Bangor Coastguard Rescue Team and Bangor marina's local cat. 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.


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.

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