Caister Volunteer Lifeboat Service explains the historic importance of independent lifeboat stations in the UK and also how Caister is making strides in developing technology that will improve Search and Rescue.
The IMRF have many members, some big, and some small like Caister Volunteer Lifeboat Service (CVLS). CVLS are a search and rescue (SAR) organisation situated on the Norfolk coast of the UK and we operate in the North Sea.
Currently Caister Lifeboat operates a Dutch-built Valentijn 2000 11M all-weather lifeboat, we also have an 8M Alloy, single Hamilton Jet RHIB in production, which is being built just five miles from the station by Alicat Workboat. Both boats have their own fully marinised beach launching systems.
Caister Lifeboat is always looking at ways of moving forward and improving its SAR capabilities and we have found that the IMRF has been a great tool for networking. As well as producing informative articles there are also various panels that the IMRF have set up worldwide that are accessible to all members.
This year for the first time Caister Lifeboat has taken part in the IMRF Crew exchange. Adam Pimble, our Inshore Lifeboat Helmsman, headed over to the Swedish Sea Rescue Service (SSRS) along with other crew from Ireland, Germany, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, and the Netherlands. He trained at the SSRS training school and covered many areas of Search and Rescue including: Familiarisation in the use of different Swedish rescue crafts; Travel to island rescue stations; Insight into a SAR Helicopter; Mock Rescue with the Swedish rescue dog team.
Adam, 32, said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the whole IMRF crew exchange experience and have brought many new training ideas home. My highlight was participating in a real shout, helping the SSRS team to rescue a gentleman in a small fishing boat stuck on a remote island with engine failure whilst being hit against rocks. The outcome was good and after retrieving him from the rocks and fixing his engine we sent him safely on his way.”
The week was finished off by sailing a traditional rescue vessel back to SSRS HQ in Gothenburg for a debrief.
CVLS are also hoping to join, and take part in discussions with the IMRF future technologies panel, particularly the discussions around drone technology for SAR capabilities, like many organisations CVLS are looking at the potential of Drones for SAR use.
Caister Lifeboat was recently asked to help trial open source drone technology, during the developmental stages, working with the Direct Line Insurance, which follows on from the advancement of their Street Light technology, adapted for SAR activities. For more details, see https://www.directline.com/fleetlights and watch how the trials have progressed.
The Caister Lifeboat service is unique in many ways, in particular for being the first independent lifeboat service working outside of the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution), saving lives at sea on beaches and on the coast.
Caister has had a long standing history when it comes to SAR at sea with it first being documented in 1791 as the Caister Beach Company, with the men of the company going out in any weather to save the crews and ships that had become grounded, wrecked or in trouble among the sand banks offshore from Caister. As payment they would claim a salvage fee, and in the early days there was more motivation from salvage and profit, than from lifesaving.
These men continued this work up to 1845 when they were issued there first dedicated lifeboat for saving lives with no fees and was soon absorbed into the RNLI.
The RNLI held the station up to October 1969 when the discussion was made to close it. The RNLI Committee stated that with the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston lifeboat station receiving a 44ft Waveney class lifeboat, deemed fast enough to cover the Caister area, the Caister station would become surplus to requirement and savings could be made. The crew at the time appealed the RNLI’s decision, but that appeal was lost and the station closed and the lifeboat taken away; but the very next day the facilities were taken over by a new charity, the Caister Volunteer Rescue Service.
When the RNLI pulled out of Caister the station had saved an outstanding 1812 lives, the highest lifesaving total achieved by any lifeboat station in the country, a record, which is still held by Caister today. As a new charity, with very limited resources, a fishing boat was loaned to the station by Joseph (Skipper) Woodhouse, the ex RNLI mechanic at Caister, and it was only a few short months before the towns people of Caister decided to back that a lifeboat and the history of saving lives at sea should stay.
The charity was formally set up by the end of 1969 and the first inshore lifeboat came on service in March 1970, thus beginning the brave decision to set up the Caister Independent Lifeboat service, making it the first fully declared lifeboat service within the UK that was independent of the RNLI.
It’s now the oldest independent station, with our 50th anniversary due in two year’s time, and in that time we have saved an additional 356 lives, taking the total at Caister to 2,168 lives. It is now among approximately 70 other independent lifeboat (mostly inshore lifeboat only) services across the UK, which all work closely and uniformly with the UK’s Maritime & Coastguard Agency, RNLI and other services involved in SAR activities.