his building is a lifesaver. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a service that has saved countless lives. Their bright orange lifeboats and brave volunteers take to the seas in inclement weather and treacherous conditions to rescue unlucky souls battered by the waves or trapped in the mud.
So it comes as something of a surprise to learn that Whitstable was only granted with its first RNLI station in 1963. Chris Davey, a volunteer press officer at RNLI Whitstable explains that we received the station after societal changes that manifested itself in the 1960s and notes:
“ Whitstable’s beaches became particularly busy after World War 2 and increased social mobility and the emerging popularity of seaside towns. . .]
He continues: ‘Mobility was on the increase and increased car ownership meant that London day-trippers were keen to visit the town.’
Today we are aware of the economic and cultural benefit impact from visitors from the capital. But with these visits and additional crowds to our beaches come the strong need for an optimum lifeboat station and as summers get hotter their need is greater than ever.
But what about those scared souls who found themselves at the mercy of the local seas before the swinging 60s ?
Chris says, ’Previous swimmers in danger would have relied on local boat owners and local fisherman if they got into trouble in the waters. Margate would have been the nearest lifeboat station.’
The RNLI are adding stations wherever they can and in 2002 four stations were added including one at Gravesend to monitor the freezing waters and rapid pace of the Thames. They were the first lifeboat stations to specifically cover a river than estuarial waters or the sea. The Thames was subject to one of the worst water disasters of recent times when in 1989, 51 people died on-board the tragic party boat the Marchioness.
Seas can be deceiving
Whitstable’s seas with its orange dinghies and fluttering yachts may appear peaceful but Davey warns:
‘Waters can range from dead calm to gale force…South Westerly winds are the prominent winds here.’
The danger can be fatal for those who do not take nature seriously.
Davey says: ‘ Danger arises from using inflatable dinghies on the water as well as beach toys and not checking conditions….we rarely assist those on commercial vessels.’
“ Getting stuck in the mud when the tide comes in at points such as corners on the Isle of Sheppey, and Beltinge is a problem that some people have encountered. . .]
It might sound humorous but getting knee deep in thick mud can be a real hazard and Davey warns that if the tides are not in your favour the risks can be great. Other things he wants us to consider when taking the plunge include to:
‘Keep aware of winds, check weather conditions which can change rapidly in the course of your trip… make sure you have communication devices if you are on a vessel and wear the correct clothing.’
And if you do want to be part of this incredibly important organisation what skills do you need? Davey states that is depends what type of role you are interested in.
He says: ‘You need to be within the age range and live within the locality plus show an interest. We train people whether they want to be crew or fundraising members.’
If you think you can continue their vital work than contact the RNLI (rnli.org) and remember – our coastline is beautiful but can be dangerous if we do not respect our waters.