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Portrush Lifeboat Station has welcomed “aboard” the Causeway Shantymen as the latest RNLI Ambassadors.

The Causeway Shantymen have become ambassadors for the RNLI during its 200th year. They have drawn great inspiration from a collaboration with Portrush RNLI and hope to play a significant role in promoting water safety and raising funds for the lifeboat station.

The group’s journey in just 12 months is remarkable, and they have quickly become a unique presence in Northern Ireland's music culture.

Their performances, ranging from collaboration with a West End theatre star to participating in maritime festivals and charity fundraisers, have brought joy to audiences. Their infectious passion for sea shanties not only entertains but also serves as a cultural link to the rich maritime heritage of the Causeway Coast.

Causeway Shantymen in action at SOS Day | Credit: RNLI/Causeway ShantymenCauseway Shantymen in action at SOS Day | Credit: RNLI/Causeway Shantymen

Sea shanties, with their tales of sailors' struggles and the harsh realities of life at sea, provide a glimpse into a bygone era.

Judy Nelson, volunteer lifeboat press officer said: “We need help more than ever to deliver our water safety messages. Over half the people that get into trouble in the water didn’t expect to get wet, and having the Causeway Shantymen on board will help us to deliver this message.

“This is such a natural fit for us at the station to team up with the Shantymen, especially when we made a guest appearance singing with them outside the lifeboat station at Christmas.

“The volunteer crew and station fundraising team are looking forward to working with them to help raise awareness of water safety and to raise funds for the station.”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

Christmas is a time for family and, for many, a time for sharing stories of times and generations past. For the Chambers family from Portrush, on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast, these stories often involve saving lives at sea.

Jason Chambers and Karl O’Neill are cousins and are following a long line of their family who have served on Portrush RNLI lifeboats.

Karl and Jason’s great grandfather Karl D Chambers was mechanic at Portrush from 1924 to 1947. Karl had spent 17 years in the Royal Navy serving in destroyers on the North Sea. Gilbert Chambers, Karl’s son, had assisted his father in the engine room took over as mechanic in June 1947. Gilbert received two thanks on vellum and a BEM in the Queen’s Birthday honours in 1975. Gilbert was also second coxswain.

Gilbert’s son Derek was then appointed mechanic and coxswain, becoming one of the few full-time coxswain/mechanics in the RNLI. Derek’s brother Anthony succeeded him as mechanic and subsequently as coxswain/mechanic, serving Portrush RNLI for 40 years until his retirement in 2020. Anthony was awarded a bronze medal from the RNLI in recognition of his rescue of two boys who were trapped in a cave at Castlerock in 2010.

Jason Chambers, carrying on the family tradition, is a helm on the D boat and relief mechanic. Karl O’Neill is a deputy coxswain on the all-weather lifeboat and area supervisor for the RNLI Lifeguards in Northern Ireland.

Both Karl and Jason said: “There’s no feeling quite like bringing someone home safe to their families — especially at Christmas. 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.

“We are proud to be carrying on the family tradition serving the community at Portrush RNLI — we like to think they would be very proud.”

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.

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

Portrush RNLI volunteers were tasked by HM Coastguard at 12:50pm on Saturday afternoon (19 August) to respond to a Mayday call made by a pleasure boat with three on board which was taking on water between Portstewart and Barmouth.

Launching at 1.15pm in Force 5 winds and moderate seas, the Portrush all-weather lifeboat made its way to the casualty vessel’s reported location off Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast.

With reports that the vessel had sunk and three people in the water, the Portrush lifeboat arrived on scene within minutes — joining the Irish Coast Guard’s Sligo-based helicopter Rescue 118 and three other local boats who had also responded to the Mayday call.

One of the other local boats spotted the casualties and her crew brought two back to harbour. The Portrush lifeboat picked up the other casualty and returned to harbour where they were met by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and coastguard.

Beni McAllister, lifeboat operations manager at Portrush said: “The three casualties were very lucky in that they had buoyancy aids and also means of communication to call for help. Thank you too to our local boat-owners who responded so quickly to the call.”

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On Wednesday (12 July) Portrush RNLI’s inshore lifeboat crew carried out a joint simulation exercise with RNLI lifeguards on the East Strand in Portrush, on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast.

The exercise was a simulation of a sea swimmer who had suffered a heart attack while swimming.

The lifeguards performed a rescue to recover unconscious casualty, bringing the person to shore and performing casualty care, while the inshore lifeboat recovered another swimmer who was conscious.

Both teams continued performing rounds of CPR and defibrillation before the exercise came to a close.

Beni McAllister, lifeboat operations manager at Portrush RNLI said: “This simulation demonstrated the good collaboration and great working relationship between the volunteer lifeboat crew and the RNLI lifeguards.

“We hope this will be the first of many similar exercises, as we work closely together during the summer months. Exercises like this can only enhance that vital relationship.”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

Portrush RNLI was requested to launch by Belfast Coastguard at 7.15pm on Tuesday evening to reports of a person who had fallen onto rocks between Portrush and Portstewart on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast.

The all-weather lifeboat was already out on exercise so was diverted to the scene and was able to arrive some 10 minutes after the pagers were activated.

Once on scene, the crew realised that the person was unresponsive, and liaising with the PSNI and coastguard on a plan of action. At this point the inshore lifeboat was requested to launch to assist evacuation of the casualty.

The volunteer crew were then able to assist the casualty into the care of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, coastguard and the waiting Air Ambulance at the top of the cliff.

Perry Walton, deputy coxswain at Portrush said: “Because the crew were already out on an exercise, we were able to respond to the page from HMCG very quickly.

“Added to the fact that weather conditions were good, we had good visibility and a fairly calm sea, we could locate the casualty immediately and help with the evacuation of the casualty to the cliff top.

“We would always ask people to be careful when walking along the cliff edges as its very easy to lose footing. If you see someone in difficulty, please ring 999 and ask for the coastguard.”

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Portrush RNLI was requested to launch its all-weather lifeboat by Belfast Coastguard at 1.26am on Sunday morning (11 June) following reports of a small motor cruiser with three people onboard that had broken down around a mile off Ballycastle.

The lifeboat launched at 1.46am and arrived on scene at 3am. By the time the lifeboat and the volunteer crew had located the small boat, the tide had pulled it east in line between Rue Point on Rathlin Island and Torr Head.

Conditions were near perfect, with some partial cloud with a smooth sea and a light southeasterly breeze.

Once on scene, the lifeboat crew risk-assessed the situation and a decision was made to attach a towline to the boat and the crew started a slow tow to Ballycastle Harbour on Northern Ireland’s North Antrim coast.

Speaking following the callout, Johnny Weston, deputy coxswain at Portrush RNLI said: “Because of the size of the motor cruiser, we had to make sure it was a sure steady tow back to Ballycastle Harbour, but it was a beautiful morning and sea conditions were good.

“The crew of the small boat did the right thing in alerting the coastguard especially as the tide had started to pull them eastwards. This was the third launch for our all-weather within a 24-hour period.”

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Portrush RNLI was requested to launch by Belfast Coastguard at 8.13pm on Friday evening (9 June) to reports of a person cut off by the tide while climbing around the base of Benbane Head.

The all-weather lifeboat and crew under coxswain Johnny Weston launched at 8.35pm to the scene in perfect weather and sea conditions.

They were guided to the casualty by HM Coastguard who were on the cliffs above the scene.

The volunteer lifeboat crew launched the Y boat from the all-weather lifeboat and were able to rescue the person from the pebble beach underneath the cliff, returning to harbour at 9.20pm.

The individual wasn’t injured and was very grateful for the speedy assistance

Charles Grossie, deputy launching authority at Portrush RNLI said: “This was a classic shout for our crew, the volunteer crew launched into a calm sea and a beautiful Portrush evening and were able to arrive on scene very quickly and rescue the person from the base of the cliff and bring him back safely to Harbour.

“As we are now entering our busy summer season, we would ask people [in Northern Ireland] if they see anyone in difficulty to dial 999 and ask for the coastguard.”

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Portrush RNLI hosted a special ceremony on Saturday (15 April) at the harbour when their new D class lifeboat was officially named The Ken Blair by Sylvia Blair.

The lifeboat, funded by Sylvia in memory of her late husband, arrived at the Northern Ireland lifeboat station in November 2022 and has already been on service.

Ken spent his school holidays on the Copeland Islands off the coast at Donaghadee and his grandfather was friendly with the local lifeboat crew. It was this which initially fuelled Ken’s interest in the RNLI and the couple were Shoreline members of the charity for many years. Ken had told Sylvia it would be lovely to have a lifeboat named in memory of a person.

Sylvia said: “He was such a wonderful, caring, dearly loved husband, whose sole aim in life was to help others. He was so contented and happy with his lot, I felt it a fitting tribute, following his death in July 2020 to fund The Ken Blair in his memory. It will provide a very valuable rescue service on the North Antrim Coast, a place that he loved dearly.”

Deputy launching authority and former volunteer lifeboat crew member Charles Grossie was master of ceremonies at the naming event. Attendees included family and close friends of Ken and Sylvia, former crew and their families, fundraising volunteers,and raft race teams as well as representatives from RNLI stations at Lough Swilly, Red Bay, Larne and Donaghadee.

Other guests included the Northern Ireland Fire Service, HM Coastguard and the Mayor of Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council.

RNLI head of region Anna Classon accepted the lifeboat from Sylvia Blair on behalf of the institution before passing it into the care of Beni McAllister, lifeboat operations manager for Portrush RNLI, who represented the station.

Ballywillan Band, who are closely associated with the station, provided a wonderful ensemble of music and the local Sea Cadets assisted with seating the guests and handing out programmes.

Local clergy conducted the service of dedication before Sylvia officially named The Ken Blair with a bottle of Bushmills Whiskey. For the occasion, the lifeboat displayed maritime flags which spelled out the letter ‘K’ and ‘B’ in honour of Ken Blair.

McAllister added: “The naming ceremony was a very proud day for everyone associated with Portrush RNLI Lifeboat Station. We are incredibly fortunate that, thanks to the generosity of Sylvia Blair and the relationship they have with the RNLI, we have this wonderful lifeboat to bring our volunteer crew members, and the casualties that need them, home safely, time and time again.

“The naming ceremony to mark our new inshore lifeboat marks new chapter in saving lives at sea on the North Coast. We will keep Ken and Sylvia Blair in our thoughts. Such generosity and support is the lifeblood of our charity and ensures that we’re able to continue our vital role of saving lives at sea, today and for future generations.”

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Portrush RNLI held a special ceremony on Friday 3 March to celebrate its crew members who were recently recognised by the charity for their role in saving the life of a teenager in 2020.

RNLI gallantry awards are given for saving life at sea and celebrate the courage, skill and dedication shown by the charity’s lifesavers.

Anna Classon, RNLI head of region for Ireland attended the ceremony in Portrush where station mechanic Dave Robinson was celebrated locally for being accorded a Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum, for his actions in saving the life of a teenage boy in the sea off Portstewart Head on Northern Ireland’s North Coast in 2020.

Robinson had already received his award from HRH The Duke of Kent, the RNLI’s president, at a lunch held in St James’s Palace in London last May.

Portrush RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat approaches the teenager off Portstewart Head on 25 September 2020 | Credit: Harry HigginsonPortrush RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat approaches the teenager off Portstewart Head on 25 September 2020 | Credit: Harry Higginson

During Friday’s celebration, Portrush RNLI coxswain Des Austin was also presented with a Chairman’s Letter of Thanks for his professionalism, seamanship and leadership under severe pressure during the rescue.

Five other volunteers including lifeboat operations manager Beni McAllister and crew members Lisa Abernethy, Ben Durrant, Mark Mitchell, Raymond Fletcher were presented with Letters of Thanks from the Institution in recognition of their part in the dramatic rescue.

The rescue, which happened on 25 September 2020, saw the lifeboat crew respond to reports of a young boy spotted in the water off Portstewart Head. On arrival at the scene, lifeboat crew observed a teenage boy in the surf, waving his arms and flailing, while being pulled out to sea by the tide.

In the dramatic rescue, a heaving line was attached to mechanic Dave Robinson’s lifejacket, and he entered the water to reach the teenager, keeping hold of him in the choppy waters.

Coxswain and mechanic Dave Robinson with RNLI’s head of region for Ireland, Anna Classon | Credit: RNLI/Tim NelsonCoxswain and mechanic Dave Robinson with RNLI’s head of region for Ireland, Anna Classon | Credit: RNLI/Tim Nelson

Meanwhile, coxswain Des Austin manoeuvred the lifeboat in the breaking swell to keep as close as possible to the casualty, while the mechanic kept hold of the boy until the lifeboat crew were able to hoist both to safety and return to shore.

Commenting on the honour for the station, Beni McAllister said: “Words can’t describe how proud I am of our incredible lifeboat crew in Portrush. We are all delighted for Dave on his gallantry award and for Des and the crew members who were all recognised for their roles in the rescue.

“No crew member goes out to get recognition or reward. They are selfless people who drop everything to answer a call for help and the people they leave behind at home and in the community take great pride in their actions. We had a full crew onboard the lifeboat that day, each one of them focused on saving that young boy’s life.”

Dave Robinson added: “Receiving the RNLI gallantry award from HRH the Duke of Kent was a huge honour and I felt I was receiving it on behalf of all the crew in Portrush RNLI.

Coxswain Des Austin with Anna Classon | Credit: RNLI/Tim NelsonCoxswain Des Austin with Anna Classon | Credit: RNLI/Tim Nelson

“I remember that day so clearly and I knew that boy had only minutes left before he was in danger of drowning. I entered the water and trusted in my crew and my training and just went for it. That poor boy was exhausted when I reached him and the whole crew were elated that he was saved. I’m grateful for the Vellum and to receive it with my wife, Livvy, by my side.

“Equally to be back here receiving the Vellum from Anna Classon, our RNLI head of region in front of my family, friends and crew is very special.“”

Des Austin said: “The all-weather Lifeboat had already been requested to launched to a shout and was redirected to Portstewart, so this was a timely interaction.

“The teamwork deployed by the crew that day was outstanding, everyone knew exactly what they had to do, even though our training had been restricted due to Covid at that time. I am very proud of them all.”

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RNLI systems technician Euan Noble was enjoying his weekend off at Portrush’s East Strand when his girlfriend Charlotte spotted two children struggling in the water on Sunday afternoon (21 August).

Euan, an experienced surfer who works to maintain the mechanics of lifeguard equipment in the Ballymoney RNLI Support Centre, knew that there was a rip current in that area of the bay next to the Arcadia building.

Back on shore, RNLI lifeguard Luca, who was on patrol along the East Strand on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast, also noticed the children struggling with bodyboards by the rocks.

Luca radioed RNLI lifeguards Michael and Jenna, who were out on a paddleboard exercise. Michael started to paddle out to the rocks, about 200 metres away from the black-and-white-flagged area where Euan had been surfing.

Jenna went back to shore and ran along the water’s edge before picking up a rescue board to swim out to help Euan and Michael.

Euan could see the lifeguards respond but based on his own location in the water he knew that he would reach the children first, so he quickly paddled around to them.

He reached out to the young girl in the water and managed to pull her up and out of the rip current, onto his own surfboard.

In the meantime, the girl’s brother had managed to get himself up onto the rocks, so Euan manoeuvred his board around to him where they could safely stay until the lifeguards reached them.

Lifeguards Michael and Jenna arrived on scene and carried out casualty care for some minor injuries before getting the children back to shore on the rescue boards.

Given the strength of the rip, Michael held the boy under the arms and waded to shore with the rescue board over the rocky coastline.

On his impromptu role change from technician to lifesaver, Euan said: “I’ve been caught out by this particular rip current before, they are unpredictable and they can catch you very quickly, these things do happen.

“I usually work with lifeguard equipment, and I’ve never been a lifeguard, so my priority was getting the children into the hands of the lifeguards as safely as possible.

“I am an experienced surfer and familiar with the sea state around this area. Luckily, the children were at a lifeguarded beach, where they could be rescued quickly.”

RNLI lifeguard Michael also notes the dangers of the rip current by Arcadia, saying: “This spot, at the rocks near the corner of the bay by the Arcadia building, is dangerous for bathing because of this strong, permanent rip current.

“When you visit a lifeguarded beach, always check the flags. The area safest for swimming and bodyboarding is always between the red-and-yellow flags, and the area safest for paddleboarding and surfing is always between the black-and-white flags.

“I’m proud of our RNLI team, that includes my lifeguarding colleagues and our staff, in [Sunday’s] rescue that was Euan who knew what to do to support us.”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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Calves Week Regatta takes place in Schull in early August, continuing the annual tradition in West Cork since the inception of the Schull Harbour Sailing Club in 1884.

In more recent years, a more compact schedule as an alternative to the older two-week even has proved popular.

The four-day Calves Week Championships with the usual mix of courses taking in the Fastnet Rock and many of Carbery's Hundred Isles, together with laid courses in Roaringwater Bay is one of Irish sailing's enduring fixtures. 

A daily prize-giving takes place on Main Street in Schull, which sees a nautical festival theme for the village organised by local businesses.