Importance of Marine VHF Radio for Lifeboat Operations – A Southport Lifeboat Case Study!

Importance of Marine VHF Radio for Lifeboat Operations – A Southport Lifeboat Case Study!

You have to admire anyone who gives up their time for the benefit of others...more so, if they put their lives on the line for others. This is the story of thousands of volunteers who give up their time including volunteers at Southport Lifeboat.

Southport Lifeboat was formed following accidents off the North West coast where local residents lost their lives. After incidents in 1987, bereaved relatives started a campaign to bring a lifeboat back to Southport. In December 1988 the first boat since 1925 came on station at Southport.

Run by the Southport Offshore Rescue Trust, Southport Lifeboat provides a search and rescue service along the Merseyside and West Lancashire coastline. Independent of the RNLI, the Trust relies on donations and fundraising to support itself to provide a first class life saving service. Being independent, means that the Trust is responsible for all of its’ own financing and fundraising, it receives no regular Grant Aid towards the running costs of the lifeboat service.

There are around 25 crew who volunteer for the crew and operational side of the charity. A further 15 volunteer in the Charity shop. All the volunteers are unpaid and have jobs including mechanics, farmers, project managers, horticulturists, teachers and students to name a few. The crew commit their time and effort freely; they receive no payment at all.

Being a crewmember does not mean “just callouts and training sessions”, fundraising is also a major part of their duties. The crew regularly organise social events and volunteer to take an active involvement in PR exercises, attending carnivals, and church fetes etc. in order to raise the £60,000 needed to keep the whole service going all year round (including the boats, quads, boathouse, shop and support equipment). This in itself is no mean task.

The station attend a wide variety of call outs from boating incidents such as a tow in or a capsize, to beach related incidents such as medical evacuations, beach searches for missing people and Mud rescues. Kite surfing, sea kayaking and paddle boarding are also popular sports off the Southport coast and these often provide call outs.

With a huge expanse of beach which can be treacherous at times for users, Southport Lifeboat have a unique yet vital search and rescue tool in the form of two quad bikes. The quad bikes are used on over 50% of the callouts and have saved many lives, allowing volunteers to access difficult areas of the beach quickly and safely, whilst carrying important life saving equipment such as first aid kits, mud rescue equipment and stretchers.

Paul Harrison, member and Duty Launching Authority of Southport Lifeboat said, ‘As a user of this coastline and knowing the dangers of the Ribble Estuary with its miles of exposed sandbanks and fast flooding tides, I know that it’s imperative to have a rapid response rescue service that can cover the estuary quickly. Southport Lifeboat over the years has adapted to cover this area with the use of Honda Foreman 4wd quad bikes.’

Marine VHF radios are also an important part of the rescue equipment for Southport Lifeboat. Paul said, ‘All of our VHF radios (base units and handhelds) are Icom sets…we even have fixed VHF radios on each of the quads. We find using one manufacturer allows our crew to switch between the two and the layout and usability is similar. It is important that our crew can switch between the boats, the quads, the tractors and the handhelds easily, and we have found in the past that having different makes of GPS on different units can make it difficult for our crew to keep up with them all.’

‘We use Icom specifically because we find their sets straightforward to use, able to stand up to the often harsh conditions they are exposed to and because they easily link into our navigation system on our Lifeboat. Communication is one of the most important things when on a call out. It is essential that our crew get the right message to and from the Coastguard, Casualty and other SAR units when on a call out. We need a radio that is not only easy to use, but also reliable as well.’

For more information about Southport Lifeboat and Southport Offshore Rescue Trust visit their website – www.southport-lifeboat.org.uk or find them on Facebook (facebook.com/SouthportLifeboat) or Twitter (@SouthportRescue)

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