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The Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association (ICGVRA) says it is taking legal advice on a new protective disclosure policy rolled out by the Department of Transport.

Coast Guard volunteers around the coast have been informed that the department’s updated policy now covers volunteers, as well as current and former employees, independent contractors, trainees and job candidates.

The updated policy sets out the procedure by which a worker can make a protected disclosure, the way in which such reports are handled, and what the department will do to protect the reporting person.

The department says it is “strongly committed to supporting a culture where all our workers can safely speak up and report any concerns of relevant wrongdoing as defined in the legislation, and to provide the necessary supports to those who raise genuine concerns”.

The ICGVRA was formally initiated in Kilkee, Co Clare, in October 2021 following a commemoration for Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitriona Lucas who lost her life at Kilkee on 12th September 2016.

It aims to provide a voice for current and former volunteers who have had issues with Irish Coast Guard management which have not been addressed.

John O’Mahony, Chairman of the rish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative AssociationJohn O’Mahony, Chairman of the rish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association

“The new protective disclosure policy has been produced. However, we know very little about how it will affect us in ICGVRA,” the association’s chairman John O’Mahony told Afloat.

“We may be excluded, however equally, it may have come about because of the pressure we have brought to bear on the Irish Coast Guard and Department of Transport,” he said. He said they had sought advice from a solicitor.

“There is no contact between ICGVRA and the Irish Coast Guard or Department of Transport as they ignore us and claim that Coastal Unit Advisory Group (CUAG) is the representative group for volunteers,” he said.

“Our view is that CUAG was for 22 years used as the advisory group, which its name indicates. It never did any representative work on behalf of any of the volunteers that have been dismissed or were in dispute with the IRCG,” he said.

Last May, an Oireachtas committed heard that morale among volunteers in the Irish Coast Guard is currently at an "all-time low", in part due to increasing "red tape" and the handling of disciplinary proceedings against members.

The ICGVRA told the Oireachtas committee on transport that many search and rescue units were at half strength due to internal tensions in the organisation.

It also said that many volunteers felt they had been unfairly targeted by Coast Guard management under the organisation’s disciplinary procedures, which had led to many senior volunteers resigning or being dismissed.

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Recreational craft and swimmers were the largest focus of Irish Coast Guard coordinated responses in 2022, an analysis shows.

As Afloat reported recently, figures released for 2022 show that the Irish Coast Guard co-ordinated responses to 2704 incidents last year.

This is the second highest number of incidents in five years, the agency says.

The recreational sector was most in need of help from the Irish Coast Guard and RNLI last year, as has been the trend in recent years.

There were 293 responses to incidents involving recreational vessels on both the Atlantic, Irish Sea and on inland waterways .

This includes yachts, motorboats, cabin cruisers, kayaks, rigid inflatable boats, punts and small inflatables.

Almost 500 incidents involved commercial vessels, and 117 of those were fishing vessels.

This included providing assistance for breakdowns at sea, and medical evacuations from vessels of all nationalities within the Irish exclusive economic zone.

The Irish Coast Guard says there were 57 incidents involving cargo/tankers/merchant vessels, while there were 27 incidents involving “other types”, as in passenger vessels.

August was the busiest month last year, reflecting the demand from leisure craft and users, with a 10% increase compared to 2021

The 44 Coast Guard units around the Republic’s coastline were mobilised on 1141 separate occasions in 2022.

Irish Coast Guard helicopters conducted 829 missions from the four bases run on contract by CHC Helicopters.

RNLI lifeboats were launched on 910 occasions last year, while community inshore rescue vessels launched for 96 incidents.

Critical assistance was provided to 559 people last year, it says.

The Irish Coast Guard is responsible for maritime search and rescue, maritime casualty and pollution preparedness and response.

Coast Guard staff and volunteers also assisted the Garda Síochána in open country search and mountain rescue.

Its staff and volunteers assisted Ireland’s National Ambulance Service in providing an air ambulance and helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) both inland and to the island communities.

Minister of State Jack Chambers, who held responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard, paid tribute to “all of the volunteers and staff for their professionalism and commitment”.

“I want to particularly recognise the work of the watch officers at rescue coordination centres in Malin, [Donegal], Valentia [Kerry] and MRCC Dublin, and Coast Guard support staff who, to their great credit, maintained an uninterrupted service throughout the Covid challenge,” he said.

The Coast Guard reiterated its core safety message, “Stay Afloat – Stay in Touch”, and highlighted the importance of never engaging in any commercial or recreational boating activity without wearing a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD), coupled with a capacity to raise the alarm via means such as a VHF radio, personal locator beacon or EPIRB.

“This should be supported by informing shore-based colleagues of intended activity and anticipated return time. Mobile phones should not be considered as a suitable substitute or be relied upon as the only means of emergency communication at sea,” it said.

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With the current icy weather warnings in place throughout the country, the Coast Guard, RNLI and Water Safety Ireland have issued a joint water safety appeal urging people to be aware of the added danger at our aquatic environments and of additional safety considerations when on or near the water.

Due to the freezing temperatures, many inland bodies of water have frozen over at canals, lakes, ponds and flooded areas. As the thickness of this ice can vary greatly the strong advice is to stay off the ice. Be extra vigilant while walking beside bodies of water as walkways and paths can become extremely slippery and unsafe when icy. Keep pets and young children away from the edges.

"Cold water shock is a very real possibility"

Many people are expected to take part in festive dips. The three maritime organisations are asking people to check that they have the right information to enjoy these activities safely and that they know what to do in the event of an emergency. Cold water swims are very popular in the run-up to Christmas and New Year. However, the current cold snap means added risks to consider when participating in these activities. This is particularly so inland. Avoid lakes that are covered or partially covered in ice. 

  • In an emergency dial 999 or 112 and ask for the Coast Guard
  • Have a means of calling for help, e.g., a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch and a whistle
  • Check weather and tides. Be particularly mindful of strong wind conditions.
  • When you go open water swimming, it is very important to acclimatise by entering the water slowly and allowing time for your body to get used to the cold.
  • To help yourself acclimatise, splash the cold water on your neck and face.
  • Warm up afterwards by putting on dry clothes quickly and wear a warm hat as soon as you get out.
  • Entry and exit points may be difficult in the sub-zero conditions, so walk slowly to avoid slipping.
  • Avoid swimming in areas where there is ice.

Water Safety Ireland’s Deputy CEO, Roger Sweeney, added ‘Children are naturally curious about walking on ice but parents should emphasise that it is not safe as the thickness can vary. This is why it so important that adults provide uninterrupted, responsible supervision beside any waterway.”

RNLI Water Safety Delivery Support Lisa Hollingum added: ‘Cold water shock is a very real possibility while winter swimming and dipping. Acclimatise before getting in, don’t stay in long and warm up as soon as you get out of the water. Look out for one another.’

Irish Coast Guard Head of Operations Gerard O’Flynn said, “Many people are looking forward to engaging in outdoor activities, including open water swimming or quick dips over the festive period, but please attend to your personal safety by carefully planning your intended activity.”

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The national executive of the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association says it is giving “full support” to Oireachtas members from County Clare who have called for an independent inquiry into Irish Coast Guard management.

This refers to an article in the Clare Champion newspaper quoting Clare TDs and Senators in a cross-party political call for an inquiry.

“We would like this to include the Minister of State with responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard, Ms Hildigarde Naughton TD; the Department of Transport including the Maritime Directorate and the Secretary General of the Department of Transport,” the Representative Association says.

It refers to a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee last May when its members submitted “problems faced by Coast Guard volunteers, particularly when any problems arise within Coast Guard coastal units.”

The Association says, in a statement, that “only a truly independent inquiry can address the questions that need to be addressed.”

“it is time to bring a just solution to the dismissed volunteers that would like to present their own individual case before any independent inquiry.”

Published in Coastguard

A former Doolin Coast Guard member has spoken publicly about why he says he was forced to quit the service after 31 years.

Experienced rock and sea cave climber Conor McGrath says that after his resignation in October of last year, five others also resigned.

He says it was through “sheer frustration” over Irish Coast Guard management inaction in relation to five key issues.

In an interview with The Clare Champion, McGrath says that while local management was supportive, national Irish Coast Guard management was “disruptive”.

“One of our team members Caitríona Lucas was killed in Kilkee, and there was the helicopter crash,” McGrath recalled, referring to Ms Lucas’s death in September 2016 and the Rescue 116 helicopter crash with the loss of four air crew off north Mayo in March 2017.

He says that as a result there was “a lot of oversight, and criticism of management”.

“I think they had a knee jerk reaction and decided if you do nothing there will not be a problem. I said this is not acceptable to me while I was volunteering my skills and my time,” McGrath told The Clare Champion.

“I quit and that started a snowball effect. I felt things were not working and management was disruptive. We spent the last six years complaining, I said I have enough, I am gone,”he said.

“The ability to train and respond was greatly reduced to such an extent I felt it wasn’t feasible to work in the unit. It is a huge loss to the community and people that the service we had is gone,” he said.

While volunteers are required to respond quickly to a call out, he said that one of the doors in the €1.9 million Doolin Coast Guard Station in north Clare “didn’t open for about three years”.

“The door on the right hand side of the building was cannibalised to get the other two working. It was like a game of chess to move boats and vehicles to get out of one door. If it was in a fire station, would they put up with it?,” he told the newspaper.

“We used to train in the station using steel beams for winter training, which was a great opportunity for people who don’t cave or climb to get themselves in and out of trouble in a controlled environment,” he explained.

“The Coast Guard Sector Manager for the West Coast, Olan O’Keeffe put fantastic systems in place, but once this was done head office said you are not to use this again. We were told there is no more training in the station. I was never told why,” he said.

“Volunteers were never consulted about what they would actually need in the new station, which was built and is run by the Office of Public Works. The Coast Guard lease it,” he explained.

He said that while the new station was “a massive improvement on the old Doolin shed”, some volunteers believe it was built in the wrong location.

“A boat and trailer is about 40 feet long. We have to get through buses and traffic to get the boat on to the slipway. It could have been sited at the head of the slipway where the boat would be ready to go,”he said.

“The entrance into it isn’t wide enough to get the boat out easily. You can’t turn in one direction. It is farcical,” he said, adding that “it is nearly impossible to get the boat from the road into the yard. The practicalities were never really looked at or discussed.”

He said the main building is open to the sea air, probably for ventilation purposes.

“It is like parking your vehicle out in the open. From a maintenance point of view, that is not a good idea,”he said.

“The eaves are mesh and the sea air circulates through the building. The inside steel structure was rusting before we even moved in. It had to addressed,”he told the newspaper.

Mr McGrath recalled the Coast Guard bought a fleet of 4WD transit vans, but found out they couldn’t take the required weight for people and climbing equipment.

“To cover it up, they have never used the vans. The vans have a humidity storage area in the back. You can put in all your wet equipment and it will dry it out,”he said.

“Because of this problem the vans are sitting empty and equipment is being stored in an open trailer in what is practically an open building,”he said.

“There are harnesses costing €300 or €400 with mildew that have never been used because they are sitting in an open trailer in an open building while the van is empty,”he said.

Read more in The Clare Champion here

Asked to comment on claims in The Clare Champion interview, a spokesman for the Department of Transport said: “Coast Guard management have worked with Doolin Coast Guard Unit members over the past number of years following the unfortunate breakdown in interpersonal relationships that had occurred”.

“At the end of 2021, the Mulvey report on Doolin was completed, which made a number of recommendations which have been implemented. These include providing the existing Volunteer Coastal Unit Advisory Group (CUAG) with an enhanced representative role for all volunteers,” the department spokesman said. 

“A dedicated HR support service to volunteers has also been provided, which is independent of Coast Guard management. Secretariat support to CUAG is also available and training in HR for volunteers and new members of CUAG is also underway,” the spokesman said.

“The Doolin unit has been reconstituted and continues to make good progress. The Mulvey report recommended that the reconstituted Doolin unit be allowed sufficient time to develop a culture of mutual respect and trust, and this process is ongoing,” the spokesman said.

“Coast Guard management is very committed to ongoing consultation and communication with all Coast Guard volunteers and CUAG. Minister Hildegarde Naughton has visited a number of Coast Guard units since the relaxation of Covid restrictions and visited the Doolin Coast Guard unit recently,” the department spokesman said.

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Hildegarde Naughton TD, Minister with special responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard has today joined volunteers in Ardmore to mark the reopening of the Coast Guard station. The Ardmore Coast Guard Unit has a long history in the provision of search and rescue and can trace its origins back to the 1890s.

The Ardmore unit today a drone capability as well as the search function and works closely with its flank stations – Bonmahon and Youghal. This is important due to the varying coastline in the area which includes beaches, rock shores and cliffs. Cliff rescue cover is also provided in the area with the Bonmahon unit equipped for cliff rescue. Their area of operations extends from Dungarvan to the east and extends west over towards Youghal. The team comprises 17 dedicated volunteers delivering the Coast Guard service in their community.

After extensive refurbishment work, the Minister’s visit marks the reopening of the Coast Guard building at Ardmore. The refurbishment work was completed by the Office of Public Works on behalf of the Irish Coast Guard and included window replacement, painting, flooring and external improvements to the yard. Work was also carried out on the original ‘rocket’ house for use in storage and training.

Minister Naughton’s visits coincide with the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Irish Coast Guard this year. The Irish Coast Guard, which can trace its roots to 1822 includes 44 Coast Guard units across Ireland provide a national maritime search and rescue service and a maritime casualty and pollution response service. Volunteers and full-time staff respond to almost 3,000 call outs and save on average 400 lives a year.

Speaking from Ardmore, Minister Naughton said “The Irish Coast Guard is one of the State’s Principal Emergency Services and their work is both challenging and varied. I would like to acknowledge the commitment of staff and volunteers here in Ardmore, across the county of Waterford, and nationwide, for providing this crucial service and particularly for maintaining service delivery throughout the Covid pandemic. I continue to hear stories of volunteers leaving their families at home in the dead of night, and even on Christmas Day, to assist those in difficulty; a fact that demonstrates the personal sacrifice that is made by our volunteers 365 days of the year. Without our volunteers we simply would not have this lifesaving service. I would also like to thank their families and the wider community without whose support this service could not be provided.”

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Minister with special responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard Hildegarde Naughton TD, today visited Doolin Coast Guard Unit in County Clare to meet with the local volunteer team and hear first-hand about their life saving work.

Doolin Coast Guard Unit consists of 7 volunteers and 8 more in Inis Óirr. The Unit carries out search, boat and drone roles. In 2021, a total of 41 incident taskings were responded to, and a further 49 so far in 2022. Following the recent appointments of Officer in Charge and Deputy Officer in Charge the unit continues to work on its core competencies. The skills and dedication of the volunteers who staff the Doolin Coast Guard unit have proven extremely important in the delivery of the Irish Coast Guard mission statement – both locally within their community and in support of the national service. Further expansion of the unit will be undertaken to continue to provide an effective maritime search and rescue service in County Clare.

Minister Naughton’s visits coincide with the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Irish Coast Guard this year. The Irish Coast Guard, which can trace its roots to 1822 includes 44 Coast Guard units across Ireland provide a national maritime search and rescue service and a maritime casualty and pollution response service. Volunteers and full-time staff respond to almost 3,000 call outs and save on average 400 lives a year.

Speaking from Doolin, Minister Naughton said “The Irish Coast Guard is one of the State’s Principal Emergency Services and their work is both challenging and varied. I would like to acknowledge the commitment of staff and volunteers here in Clare, and nationwide, for providing this crucial service and particularly for maintaining service delivery throughout the Covid pandemic. I continue to hear stories of volunteers leaving their families at home in the dead of night, and even on Christmas Day, to assist those in difficulty; a fact that demonstrates the personal sacrifice that is made by our volunteers 365 days of the year. Without our volunteers we simply would not have this lifesaving service. I would also like to thank their families and the wider community without whose support this service could not be provided.”

The Irish Coast Guard is one of the State’s Principal Emergency Services and their work is both challenging and varied. I would like to acknowledge the commitment of staff and volunteers in Galway, and nationwide, for providing this crucial service and particularly for maintaining service delivery throughout the Covid pandemic. I continue to hear stories of volunteers leaving their families at home at the dead of night, or on Christmas Day, to assist a person in difficulty; a fact that demonstrates the personal sacrifice that is made by our volunteers 365 days of the year. Without our volunteers we simply would not have this lifesaving service.”

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Crosshaven Coastguard has installed a new drive-up pontoon for its RIB rescue boat in Cork Harbour

The floating pontoon, that has been installed at the Royal Cork Yacht Club marina gives the local Coastguard unit a much safer and quicker response time.

The Coastguard says on social media that the pontoon will save launch time and the dangers of crossing a busy main road because 'the boat is already on the water but not in the water!" 

Crosshaven Coastguard's new new drive-up pontoon berth for its rescue RIBCrosshaven Coastguard's new new drive-up pontoon berth for its rescue RIB Photo: Bob Bateman

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Galway based Minister with special responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard, Hildegarde Naughton TD, today visited Cleggan Coast Guard Unit to meet with the local volunteer team and hear first-hand about their life saving work.

Cleggan is a shore-based Coast Guard Unit with 17 volunteers and has dual functions with shore search and drone roles. The team at Cleggan was the first in the country to be trained and equipped with drone capabilities. Work continues within the team to keep on top of advancing drone technologies. The Cleggan Unit has also led the way for Units nationwide to respond to a wide range of challenging and life-threatening incidents, including searches for missing persons with the use of drones.

Minister Naughton’s visit coincides with the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Irish Coast Guard this year. The Irish Coast Guard, which can trace its roots back to 1822, includes 44 Coast Guard units across Ireland that provide a national maritime search and rescue service and a maritime casualty and pollution response service. Volunteers and full-time staff respond to almost 3,000 callouts and save on average, 400 lives a year.

Minister Naughton commented on this important milestone: “I had the pleasure of presenting the 30-year Long Service Medal to Michael Murray, the Officer in Charge at Cleggan, in September at the celebration event of the 200th anniversary of the Coast Guard. Michael’s exemplary service is an example of the dedication and commitment of all in our Coast Guard to protect people along our coastline and inland waters.

“The Irish Coast Guard is one of the State’s Principal Emergency Services, and their work is both challenging and varied. I would like to acknowledge the commitment of staff and volunteers here in Galway, and nationwide for providing this crucial service and particularly for maintaining service delivery throughout the Covid pandemic. I continue to hear stories of volunteers leaving their families at home in the dead of night, and even on Christmas Day, to assist those in difficulty, a fact that demonstrates the personal sacrifice that is made by our volunteers 365 days of the year. Without our volunteers, we simply would not have this lifesaving service. I would also like to thank their families and the wider community, without whose support this service could not be provided."

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Two junior ministers have turned a sod on the construction site of a new Coast Guard station at Bunmahon, Co Waterford.

A sum of 5.3 million euro is being invested in the new station, according to Minister of State with responsibility for the Irish Coast Guard Hildegarde Naughton.

She was joined by Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), Patrick O’Donovan.

It will take about a year to complete.

The new station will provide better facilities for the 18 volunteers who operate from the Bunmahon unit, including vehicle storage, shower and changing facilities, an operations/training room, kitchen and office space.The new station will provide better facilities for the 18 volunteers who operate from the Bunmahon unit, including vehicle storage, shower and changing facilities, an operations/training room, kitchen and office space

Ms Naughton paid tribute to the commitment and dedication of almost 1,000 volunteers with the Coast Guard, which she described second to none.

She also paid tribute to the members of the Bunmahon unit and said it was a key resource for the Irish Coast Guard in the Waterford area.

“The unit has shoreline and cliff rescue capabilities and works closely with its flank units at Ardmore and Tramore,” she said.

Minister Naughton said the Bunmahon unit and said it was a key resource for the Irish Coast Guard in the Waterford areaMinister Naughton said the Bunmahon unit and said it was a key resource for the Irish Coast Guard in the Waterford area

“The Waterford team here has responded to many search and cliff rescue emergencies down through the years, both maritime and inland, in rural communities and in the larger townlands of Tramore and Dungarvan,”she said, noting the unit had also assisted the Garda Siochana, National Ambulance Service and Fire Service.

“The OPW is delighted to assist in the design and construction of this new purpose-built premises in Bunmahon for the Irish Coast Guard Service,” Mr O’Donovan said.

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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