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Morecambe RNLI celebrate 20 years of its inshore rescue hovercraft

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) introduced its inshore rescue hovercraft (IRH) in 2002 with Morecambe Lifeboat Station being the first ever station to operate the lifesaving craft.

The amphibious inshore rescue hovercraft has enabled the RNLI to carry out its lifesaving work in areas inaccessible to conventional lifeboats ever since.

Designed for search and rescue purposes, the hovercraft can tackle incidents on tidal mudflats or sand where the surface is too soft to support land vehicles and where the water is too shallow for boats.

The hovercraft has extended Morecambe RNLI’s lifesaving capability around Morecambe Bay having aided over 200 people and saved an estimated 24 lives over the two decades. The hovercraft has been an invaluable asset for its volunteer crews in saving lives at sea.

Hurley Flyer, the first of its fleet to become a station asset, was donated by Mrs Hurley from Oxfordshire and has been on service at Morecambe Lifeboat Station for 20 years.

The late Mr Harry Roberts MBE paved the way for the hovercraft to go to Morecambe RNLI, as he was heavily involved in the initial building of the Griffon hovercraft and the trials within Morecambe Bay. He went on to become the first volunteer Hovercraft Commander for the RNLI then Senior Hovercraft Commander at the station for several years.

Harry’s daughter and Lifeboat Press Officer at Morecambe RNLI, Amy Roberts, said: ‘’The hovercraft has had a huge lifesaving impact at Morecambe. My father always said that the hovercraft is invaluable to the community, as a lot of our rescues would be very difficult to execute in any other craft.

‘’I saw the first prototype of the Griffon hovercraft in Poole with my father when I was just 10 years old. It was still in the very early stages of development, but it was then that my father started to push for the hovercraft to be at Morecambe because he knew it would help save more lives around Morecambe Bay.’’

Harry was commander of the hovercraft the night of the Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy, which saw him flying the hovercraft for 22 hours. He was awarded an MBE in 2008 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his services to maritime safety.

Steve Wilson, Lifeboat Operations Manager at Morecambe, has been part of the RNLI for 27 years. He said: ‘’Harry was the driving force in Morecambe RNLI. He invested a huge amount of time on the development of the hovercraft to what’s on station today.

‘’Over his 34 years at the RNLI, Harry inspired and trained many volunteers and to this day, his work continues to inspire the current crew at the station. His legacy lives on through the hovercraft.’

With large areas of mud, sand and shallow water, Morecambe RNLI requires the craft for its unique capabilities in reaching inaccessible areas, shoreline searches, and tackling dangerous terrain.

Steve adds: ‘’Having been part of the RNLI for almost three decades now, I have seen Morecambe Lifeboat Station with and without the hovercraft and I can safely say it has had a positive impact on the community.

‘’Having the hovercraft and lifeboat on station brings many benefits to our lifesaving work for example, if we’re looking for a missing person and we don’t know exactly where they are, we have both assets doing parallel searches – so the hovercraft can go along the shoreline and the lifeboat can be a mile further out searching the water. It expands our search capabilities a huge amount.’

Morecambe RNLI have launched over 450 times with the hovercraft since it went on service in 2002, with 20 of these launches involving animal rescues, including dogs, sheep and cattle.

Ross Simpson, Senior Hovercraft Commander and Mechanic at Morecambe RNLI, said: ‘’The hovercraft is a big part of Morecambe’s community, there’s even a pub named after it!

‘’There’s only four RNLI stations with a hovercraft and we’re lucky enough to be one of them. It’s always been a privilege to be part of the hovercraft crew.

‘’The craft itself has made a huge difference to the efficiency and effectiveness of our 24/7 search and rescue service, enabling us to save even more lives around the coast.’’

‘It feels fantastic to be involved in the future plans of the hovercraft. Morecambe RNLI has had a long history with the hovercraft and it is an honour to be able to continue it.’’

 

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