The Royal National Lifeboat Institution
is a registered charity which exists to save lives at sea. It provides, on call, the 24-hour service necessary to cover search and rescue requirements to 50 miles out from the coast of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. There are 233 lifeboat stations around the country.
Southend on Sea...
has one of the busiest lifeboat stations in the country, averaging over 100 'shouts' per year.
In fact Southend, you could argue, has two of the busiest stations in the country! One of them comprising of the Hovercraft and D-class at the inshore station and the other station being offshore at the end of the pier, housing the Atlantic 75 and the offshore D-class.
We are the only station to operate 4 lifeboat rescue units. 5 if you include the Buggy, which has featured in many a shout. Southend also features the organisation's only man-riding davit (oh, I mean us and Sunderland which also has now!).
Since 1879 the Lifeboat crews of Southend have saved over 2000 lives.
Working alongside our flank stations, Sheerness and Gravesend, the crew at Southend provide coverage for the ever increasing amount of river usage in the Thames estuary.
A strong working relationship is also maintained with the Thames Coastguard who most often coordinate rescues, then there is the Southend Coastguard who operate the shoreside aspect at a local level and without whom, our job would often be a lot more difficult.
And sometimes, just occassionally, when even a Lifeboat may not be the quickest means to finish a job, we have our friends at RAF Wattisham who supply us with air cover in the form of a Sea King helicopter. Their assistance, whether it be for search purposes or 'medi-vacing' a casualty, can be crucial to the successful outcome of a shout.
A brief history of Southend Lifeboat
The RNLI first established a station at Southend in 1879 to assist ships going ashore on the many sandbanks of the Thames Estuary. The lifeboat was launched from davits on the Pierhead, 1.25 miles from the shore, much as it is today. Between 1885 and 1891 a second station existed, the lifeboat being housed in Hartington Road and launched by horse-drawn carriage. The lifeboats at this time were of the pulling (rowing) and sailing type, but in 1928 the first motor lifeboat arrived, the "Greater London", and this was at first moored off the Pier Head.
However, in 1935 a lifeboat house and slipway were completed adjacent to the Pier Head railway station. The "Greater London" was one of the 19 lifeboats which went to Dunkirk in 1940 Inflatable inshore lifeboats were sent to Southend in 1965 and 1969 to assist in the increasing number of pleasure craft. The conventional lifeboat, the "Greater London II", a Watson class boat which had served the station since 1955, was withdrawn from the station in March 1976, being replaced by an Atlantic 21 semi-rigid inflatable, named the "Percy Garon". One of the D Class ILBs was also withdrawn.
A new Atlantic 21 was placed on station in 1986 and was named "Percy Garon II" by HRH The Princess Anne on 2nd May. Less than two months later, disaster struck the lifeboat station when the coaster "Kings Abbey" sliced through the Pier and lifeboat slipway. The supporting structure of the lifeboathouse was also badly damaged and later had to be demolished. A temporary station was quickly re-established at the pierhead. This was officially opened on 24th January 1991 by HRH The Princess Royal. We were in this accommodation until the new boathouse was built and the latest regeneration of the pier started.
Today's boathouse houses the Atlantic 75, a second D Class ILB which was sent to the station in 1987, and a souvenir shop. This station was opened in June 2002. The other ILB is housed on the seawall just east of the Pier, and a small building at the start of the pier walkway is where the electric buggy and bicycles, used by the crew to reach the pierhead, are stored. The two D Class inshore lifeboats are named "Pride of London Foresters" and "The Essex Freemason". The Atlantic 75 "Vic & Billie Whiffen" which only entered service in 2001 was kindly donated by the Whiffen family. This replaced the Percy Garon 2 which served this station for over 15 years.
How it used to be done
U-tube footage of the Greater London II.