Launching the Lifeboat

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Have you ever wondered what happens after the alarm is raised with a 999 call to the Coastguard? What happens between the Coastguard page and the lifeboat being launched?


If you watch Saving Lives at Sea on TV, you may think that when the pagers go off the lifeboat crew just jump in the lifeboat and off they go, but behind the scenes there is a lot more to it.


The key figure in the launching of the lifeboat is the LA – the Launching Authority. The LA is the person who liaises between the Coastguard and the lifeboat crew to make sure that the lifeboat is launched, and the crew has the information they need to carry out their rescue mission.


When someone raises the alarm, the Coastguard sends out a page to the lifeboat station. This page alerts the duty LA and the lifeboat officers that there is to be a launch. Whilst the lifeboat officers race to the station to get the station open and ready, the LA calls the Coastguard to get the necessary information about the shout. At this stage, the available information may be incomplete, but will usually include the location and the type of emergency, such as people cut off by tide, or kayakers in difficulty.


The LA then considers the type of emergency, the sea and weather conditions and decides which RNLI Ilfracombe lifeboat, the Shannon class all-weather lifeboat, or the D class inshore lifeboat, or both, should be launched. The Coastguard or LA then sends another page, this time to alert all the crew and shore crew and tells them which lifeboat is needed. The LA then calls the station where one of the lifeboat officers, usually the Coxswain, will be waiting, to brief them on the mission.


Meanwhile the crew, when their pagers go off, hurry down to the station, and go to the kit room to get ready. The shore crew grab their kit and start to get the slipway clear and secure ready for the launch. As soon as the crew are ready, they prepare any additional equipment needed for the mission and board the lifeboat. The lifeboats are then launched, and the Coastguard notified that the lifeboat is on its way. During the mission, the LA will stay at the station and wait for updates from the crew.

The lifeboat leaving the lifeboat house.


When the lifeboat is on its way back to the station the Coxswain will notify the LA who summons the shore crew back to the station ready to recover the lifeboat. Finally, when the lifeboat is safely back at the station the Coxswain and Mechanic brief the LA on what has happened on the shout and the LA records this on a service report to the RNLI headquarters.

The DLAs


The Ilfracombe RNLI LA is Chris Wallis, who is also the Operations Manager and has been with the RNLI for over 20 years, and there are currently three Deputy Launching Authorities (DLAs);  Ian Meadlarkin who has been a DLA for eight years and was formerly crew on the station’s Lloyds II lifeboat, Don McCormick who has been DLA for three years and was previously crew on the station’s Mersey class Spirit of Derbyshire and inshore lifeboats, Alex Dykes and Deborah Brown, and Graham Burbidge who has been DLA for two years and was previously in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. 


The trainee DLAs: Nigel, Georgina and Richard

The station also has three trainee DLAs, Georgina Carlo-Paat MBE, Richard Legg and Nigel Oliver. It takes around three months to train to be a DLA and training includes shadowing the experienced DLAs on shouts.


The LA is a vital and important role which carries a lot of responsibility, but it is also one of the least known roles within the station.  So let’s all say thank you to our local LA and DLAs who help our crews to Save Lives at Sea!

The RNLI shop has a great range of gifts!

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