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Larne RNLI father-and-son duo Frank and Jack Healy plus father and daughter Martin and Sami Agnew have been reflecting on what it’s like to be on call together as both family and fellow crew members.

On average, RNLI lifeboats launch over 100 times during the Christmas period every year. Whatever weather winter throws at them, RNLI crews are ready to battle the elements to save lives at sea.

These rescues, and others all year round, are only made possible by the RNLI’s generous supporters, helping to fund the essential kit, training and equipment needed by lifeboat crews.

Frank Healy has been a lifeboat crew member at Larne RNLI for 29 years, 27 of those as coxswain. Before that he was a crew member at Red Bay RNLI, further north along Northern Ireland’s East Antrim coast, for three years. His son Jack joined the Larne crew in August 2018.

For five years now, Frank and Jack have been regularly training together and have been on a number of the same call-outs.

So, what’s it like to be on the crew with a family member? “I do enjoy Jack being on the lifeboat,” Frank says. “I enjoy seeing him go through the various stages and achieving the different goals — it’s hard to put into words how proud I feel when I see him doing that.”

But like many families who have a loved one on the lifeboat, there is concern too when they put the lifeboat to sea.

“Recently, on one of the shouts,” Frank recalls with a smile, “I had to put Jack aboard another vessel at two o’clock in the morning in a Force 8 gale and everyone thought it was a great achievement and a great job. Except his mother — and she gave me such a hard time for putting his life on the line.”

Father and daughter Martin and Sami Agnew aboard Larne RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat | Credit: RNLI/LarneFather and daughter Martin and Sami Agnew aboard Larne RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat | Credit: RNLI/Larne

For Frank though, it was no surprise when Jack decided to join the crew: “I was absolutely delighted that he was going to be a part of it, but I had no doubt that that was going to happen because Jack had shown such an interest from an early age. When I was going out on shouts he would wait up until I came in and the first thing I would hear was this voice from our little boy’s bedroom: ‘Dad, what was it?’

“His achievements within the lifeboat also — it’s probably one of the drivers that is keeping me on the lifeboat. I enjoy going out training with Jack and I particularly enjoy when we go on call outs together. It’s really rewarding when you go out on a shout and you come in and everything has gone well but to have your big son beside you when you do it, it’s pretty special.”

Meanwhile, Sami Agnew joined the lifeboat crew in Larne in October 2009 following in the footsteps of her father Martin, who marks 25 years of volunteer service next year.

“Being on the crew with my dad is very special’ following in his footsteps makes me very proud and always having him there when I need him is like an extra safety net,” Sami says.

For both families, Christmas will be no different than any other day on call this year and should their pagers sound, they will be ready to respond.

“There’s no feeling quite like bringing someone home safe to their families,” Sami adds. “But as volunteer lifeboat crew we couldn’t launch without kind donations from the public which fund the kit, training and equipment we need to save others and get home safely to our own families.”

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the RNLI is launching its annual Christmas fundraising appeal for 2023 with a focus on the generations of families who have volunteered their time and commitment to ensure the charity’s lifesaving service has continued for nearly 200 years.

To make a donation to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal, and enable the charity to continue its lifesaving work, visit RNLI.org/WinterAppeal.

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

The volunteer lifeboat crew from Larne RNLI in Northern Ireland will feature in the new series of popular TV show Saving Lives at Sea on BBC Two at 8pm next Thursday 12 October.

Featuring footage captured on helmet and boat cameras, viewers watch dramatic rescues through the eyes of RNLI lifesavers while meeting the people behind the pagers and those rescued by the charity’s lifesavers.

The popular 10-part documentary is now in its eighth series and includes the lifesaving work of RNLI volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards from around Ireland and the UK.

It’s also available to watch on the BBC iPlayer for viewers in the UK following broadcast.

Including interviews with lifeboat crews and lifeguards, the series will also hear from those rescued and their families who, thanks to RNLI lifesavers, are here to tell the tale.

This forthcoming episode, on Thursday 12 October, includes Larne RNLI’s rescue of a capsized kayaker alongside rescue stories from their colleagues at other stations and beaches around the coast.

Larne RNLI helm Barry Kirkpatrick, who was on the call-out and will feature in the upcoming episode, said: “Our lifesaving work would not be possible without donations from the public and we are delighted to be able to share a frontline view of the rescues they support with their kind generosity.

“This is the first time Larne RNLI features on the Saving Lives at Sea series and this rescue is a good example of where our volunteers’ training, skills and experience all come to the fore in helping bring a casualty to safety. It also highlights the great teamwork not just among our own volunteers but with our colleagues from the various emergency services.

“The call for help in this rescue comes late at night following reports of a person capsized from their kayak. After a search, we locate the casualty floating on his back in the middle of the bay, who is estimated to be in the water for up to one hour and very cold.

“We bring him onboard the lifeboat and make our way back to the beach as quickly as possible while beginning first aid to try and warm him up but we are concerned about signs of hypothermia. Once on shore, we are assisted by our colleagues in the coastguard and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.

“In this rescue, the casualty's wife does the right thing by calling 999 and asking for the Coastguard when she realises her husband is in difficulty in the water. The kayaker also does the right thing by floating on his back with his arms stretched out. He is floating to live.”

If you get inspired to volunteer with the RNLI by the series, there are a variety of roles from lifeboat crew, to fundraiser, lifeguard to shop volunteer. Fund out more at rnli.org/volunteer

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

Larne RNLI came to the aid of a swimmer who got into difficulty half a mile from Portmuck Harbour on Wednesday afternoon (4 October).

The station’s volunteers were requested by Belfast Coastguard to launch both their all-weather and inshore lifeboats before 12.30pm.

It followed a 999 call from a member of the public who raised the alarm after they observed two swimmers who they thought were not making any progress against a strong offshore wind on Northern Ireland’s East Antrim coast.

There was a Force 4-5 south-westerly wind blowing at the time that the all-weather lifeboat, under coxswain Barry Kirkpatrick, and the inshore lifeboat, helmed by Chris Dorman, were launched.

Arriving on scene first, the all-weather lifeboat crew quickly located a casualty around half a mile from the harbour and brought him onboard the lifeboat. He was cold but otherwise safe and well and in good spirits.

The second swimmer had managed to make his way safely back to shore unaided. The inshore lifeboat crew checked he too was safe and well before taking the first swimmer onboard and bringing both ashore and into the care of the Portmuck Coastguard team.

Speaking following the call-out, Phil Ford-Hutchinson, Larne RNLI’s deputy launching authority said: “We would like to commend the member of the public who raised the alarm today when they spotted what they thought was two swimmers in difficulty; that is always the right thing to do. We would also like to commend the swimmers who had swim floats with them.

“We would remind anyone planning an activity at sea to always go prepared. Check weather and tide times before venturing out, let someone on the shore know where you are going and when you are due back, carry a means of communication such as a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch and should you get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble, call 999 or 112, and ask for the coastguard.”

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Larne RNLI were requested on Friday (18 August) to launch both of their lifeboats to reports of two people in the water some 200 metres from Portmuck in Islandmagee, on Northern Ireland’s East Antrim coast.

Launching both lifeboats at 3.25pm into rough seas with a stiff breeze as Storm Betty approached, the lifeboats made their way to the casualties’ reported location at Portmuck.

Upon arrival, the all-weather lifeboat Dr John McSparran located the first casualty floating near to the rocks at Portmuck Harbour.

The lifeboat moved alongside and one volunteer crew member entered the water in a dry suit to help the casualty, who was beginning to show the effects of being in the cold water for a prolonged period.

Using the hoist on the lifeboat, the casualty was brought onboard where the volunteer crew immediately started casualty care and administered oxygen.

At the same time, the smaller inshore lifeboat Terry had located the second casualty along with the small punt the casualties had been using. The punt had been taking on water and was mostly submerged.

The volunteer crew threw a rope to the casualty and brought him into the lifeboat. The casualty was then transferred into the large all-weather lifeboat where casualty care was administered.

Both lifeboats made their way to Larne Harbour where the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service was requested to meet the volunteer crew upon their arrival. Paramedics assessed both casualties and they were then transferred into the care of the NIAS.

Allan Dorman, Larne lifeboat operations manager said: “This was a challenging call for all of our volunteer crew members, but it is why we train regularly so that we are as prepared as we can be in scenarios like this.

“When you are planning to go to sea, ensure that you have a means of contacting the shore should you ever get into difficulties. It is vital to make sure that you are well prepared as the conditions can change very quickly and can catch out the most experienced sailors.”

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Larne RNLI were requested to launch on Friday afternoon (7 July) to reports of a kayaker in the water at Portmuck.

Both of Larne’s lifeboats launched after pagers sounded at 5.24pm and made their way towards the casualty’s last reported location at Portmuck on Islandmagee, on Northern Ireland’s East Antrim coast.

The casualty’s kayak was discovered roughly half a mile north of Muck Island but there was no sign of any person nearby.

The all-weather lifeboat, Dr John McSaprron, continued the search for the casualty and found them in the water near to Portmuck Harbour holding onto their kayak’s paddle and being supported with a buoyancy aid.

The casualty was quickly recovered onto the all-weather lifeboat where they were checked to ensure they were not injured or suffering from any effects of being in the cold water.

Apart from feeling cold, the casualty was well and in good spirits.

Meanwhile, the smaller inshore lifeboat, Terry, had been requested to recover the casualty’s kayak from the earlier reported location north of Muck Island.

Once the kayak was recovered, the inshore lifeboat met up with the all-weather lifeboat and the casualty was transferred into the smaller, more manoeuvrable boat so that they could be brought to the shelter of Portmuck Harbour and the care of the local mobile coastguard team.

Speaking after the call-out, Allan Dorman, Larne RNLI lifeboat operations manager said: “We’d like to thank the member of the public who called the coastguard when they saw the casualty fall into the water. Without their timely call, this could have had a very different result.

“It’s essential when you plan to go on the water that you have a buoyancy aid or some form of flotation device and it is important to make sure you have a way of contacting the shore should you get into difficulties on the water.

“Remember, if you see anyone in trouble at sea or get into difficulty yourself, contact 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.”

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NFU Mutual agents and staff in East Antrim recently nominated Larne RNLI to receive a donation of more than £3,000 from its national £1.92m Agency Giving Fund.

The leading rural insurer has launched this fund, now in its third year, to help local frontline charities across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Agency Giving Fund forms part of NFU Mutual’s £3.25m funding pledge for both local and national charities in 2022, to help tackle the ongoing effects of the pandemic and assist with recovery.

To ensure these donations reach all corners of the UK and are directed where they’re needed most, NFU Mutual’s agents, with over 295 offices nationwide, have been given the opportunity to nominate local charities to receive a share of the fund

Allan Dorman, Larne RNLI lifeboat operations manager said: “As the charity that saves lives at sea, we are very grateful for this generous donation which will help us continue to power our lifesaving work.

“The average annual training cost for each individual crew member is £1,400. The funds raised will enable us to kit out a volunteer crew member with the essential kit they need when they respond to their pager and prepare to go to someone’s need at sea.

“As a charity we are reliant on voluntary donations such as this to do our work, without which we would not be able to provide our 24/7, 365 days a year on call service.'

Richard Lee of NFU Mutual added: “We chose to nominate Larne RNLI as our chosen charity because here in County Antrim we have so much coastline and the RNLI is keeping our waters safe.

“They, like many others, have been hampered with fundraising activity due to the pandemic so to be able to make this donation was a no-brainer for us.

“To visit the station on their weekly training night and have the opportunity to see how our donation will be used was a great, interesting way to spend an evening!”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

For the second night in a row, Larne RNLI’s volunteers have left their beds to go the aid of a vessel’s crew in need of assistance, this time two people on a yacht that got into difficulty northeast of Larne.

The crew were requested to launch their all-weather lifeboat by Belfast Coastguard at 4.40 am following a report that an 11m yacht with two onboard had fouled its propeller on a rope and was stuck fast and unable to make headway, 10 nautical miles east of Larne. The yacht’s crew were on passage from Oban to Bangor when they encountered problems.

The lifeboat launched under Coxswain Fank Healy with six crew members onboard and made its way to the scene where it arrived 25 minutes later. Weather conditions at the time were good with a calm sea and Force 2-3 winds.

Following an initial visual assessment, it became clear to the lifeboat crew that the yacht was caught on a string of lobster pots. A decision was made to put two crew members onboard who began to work to free the yacht, but this proved a challenging task as some of it was wrapped around the port side propeller.

With one engine still working, a decision was then made for the vessel to make its way into Larne for further inspection under the escort of the all-weather lifeboat with two lifeboat crew remaining onboard.

The passage took an hour and 45 minutes when the vessel was then safely secured and moored up at East Antrim Boat Club.

Speaking following the call out, Larne RNLI Coxswain Frank Healy said: ‘It’s unusual for us to be called out in the early hours of the morning two nights in a row but that is the nature of our role as volunteer crew, and we were happy to help.

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Larne RNLI rescued a man who got into difficulty in the early hours of this morning (Wednesday, 12 October) after his 30ft yacht sustained engine failure in the dark of night.

The volunteer crew were requested to launch their all-weather lifeboat at 2.30 am following a VHF Mayday to Belfast Coastguard from a sailor who encountered problems when his yacht broke down, and he was unsure of his location.

The lifeboat immediately launched under Coxswain Frank Healy and with six crew members onboard and made its way to the lat long position the sailor had provided, which was six miles east of Larne.

Weather conditions at the time were rough, with southwesterly winds gusting 20 knots.

The lifeboat arrived on the scene approximately 15-20 minutes later and instantly located the sailor, who was wearing a lifejacket and was safe and well onboard his boat. He had left Loch Ryan in Scotland and was on passage to Bangor when he got into difficulty.

Having assessed the situation, a decision was made to transfer two crew members onboard the yacht to establish a tow and to bring the vessel to the nearest safe port at Larne. Due to the weather conditions, when the lifeboat was approaching Larne, a decision was made to request the assistance of the station’s inshore lifeboat to help with mooring the yacht on arrival. The yacht and sailor were brought to safety at approximately 6 am where the man was then brought to the lifeboat station and made comfortable.

Speaking following the call out, Phil Ford-Hutchinson, Larne RNLI Deputy Launching Authority, said: ‘The sailor did the right thing this morning in raising the alarm when he knew he was in difficulty. His engine had broken down, he was unsure where he was in the dark and weather conditions were not great. Despite the time, our crew responded in numbers without hesitation and were delighted to help and we wish the man well on his onward journey.

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Larne RNLI’s volunteers were requested to launch on Friday evening (2 September) to reports of a kayaker in the water in Brown’s Bay at Islandmagee, on Northern Ireland’s East Antrim coast.

The volunteer crew launched both of their lifeboats into slight seas at 8.53pm at the request of Belfast Coastguard, then made their way to the casualty’s last given location at Brown’s Bay.

Upon reaching the location, both lifeboats conducted a thorough search of the area, using white flares to help illuminate the search area.

Portmuck Coastguard, along with some members of the public, had heard someone shouting for help in the bay and so the smaller inshore lifeboat, Terry, asked to be pointed in the direction of the shouting.

Heading towards the area indicated, the lifeboat found the casualty in the middle of the bay floating on his back. By this stage it was estimated that he had been in the water for up to one hour and was very cold.

The volunteer crew members recovered the casualty into the lifeboat and made their way back to the beach as quickly as possible while beginning first aid to try and warm the casualty back up. They were concerned about signs of hypothermia.

Upon reaching the beach, the lifeboat crew were met by members of the Portmuck and Larne mobile coastguard team who provided blankets and assistance.

Due to the severity of the casualty's condition, the Irish Coast Guard’s Dublin-based helicopter Rescue 116 was requested and arrived on scene to allow a paramedic to evaluate the casualty’s condition while awaiting the arrival of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.

The casualty was kept warm and dry until the ambulance arrived and he was taken to hospital.

Larne RNLI’s inshore lifeboat helm Barry Kirkpatrick said: “The casualty’s wife did the right thing by calling 999 and asking for the coastguard when she realised, he was in difficulty in the water.

“The kayaker also did the right thing by floating on his back with his arms stretched out. He was floating to live.

“All of the emergency services worked together so well to achieve a positive outcome. It was great teamwork from everyone involved.”

The RNLI’s advice if you find yourself in trouble in the water is to Float to Live: lean back spreading your arms and legs like a starfish to stay afloat, control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety. For more visit RNLI.org/FloatUK2022.

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Larne RNLI in Northern Ireland launched to the aid of a group of paddle boarders who were caught in an offshore breeze at the weekend.

The volunteer crew were requested to launch their inshore lifeboat by Belfast Coastguard at 2.09pm on Sunday (8 May) following a report that five people on two paddle boards were struggling to get back to shore.

The lifeboat was launched from East Antrim Boat Club into a moderate sea with an offshore breeze and made its way to the last reported location of the group at the entrance of Brown’s Bay off Islandmagee.

Having located the casualties and their paddle boards towards the middle of Brown’s Bay, the lifeboat crew observed that the offshore breeze was blowing both boards out to sea and that the group were having difficulty trying to return to safety.

Two of the group managed to make their own way back to the beach unaided, while the remaining three were transferred into the lifeboat.

Upon returning the casualties and their paddle boards to Brown’s Bay beach, they were handed into the care of Portmuck’s coastguard team.

Speaking following the callout, Larne RNLI helm Scott Leitch said: “We are very grateful to the member of the public who realised that something was wrong and called 999 and asked for the coastguard and we were delighted to help.

“As the weather gets warmer and more people travel to the coast, we would remind everyone planning a trip to sea or an activity on the water, to always carry a means of communication so they have a way of contacting the shore and to always wear a lifejacket or flotation device.”

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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.

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