Alison Levett: Why the RNLI could be the Tour de Yorkshire's biggest winner

Sir Gary Verity is pictured with the Whitby lifeboat crew; the RNLI will be the official charity of the 2015 Tour de Yorkshire.Sir Gary Verity is pictured with the Whitby lifeboat crew; the RNLI will be the official charity of the 2015 Tour de Yorkshire.
Sir Gary Verity is pictured with the Whitby lifeboat crew; the RNLI will be the official charity of the 2015 Tour de Yorkshire.
ON Christmas Day evening, when most of us were probably slumped on the sofa with our families, volunteers from Bridlington RNLI were at sea, searching for a man spotted struggling in the water.

It was dark, cold and the sea conditions were so challenging the inshore lifeboat would have capsized had it not been for the skill of the helmsman. The crew soon found the man, hauled him into the lifeboat and started first aid as the sea broke over them. Sadly, the man didn’t survive.

This is the reality of life as a volunteer RNLI crew member. Family time is interrupted. Jobs are put on hold. The call for help can come at any time, night or day, and in a matter of minutes our volunteers can go from eating Christmas dinner to launching their lifeboat into stormy seas.

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They don’t know if they’ll be rescuing a fisherman, a swimmer or a family cut off by the tide.

Sometimes a launch ends in tragedy and those involved have to deal with the knowledge that, although they did everything humanly possible, they have been unable to return someone to their loved ones.

Crews at the nine RNLI lifeboat stations along the Yorkshire coast rescue between 250 and 300 people every year, while the charity’s lifeguards on 14 of the region’s busiest beaches help hundreds more during holidays.

This is only possible because of the generosity of the public whose donations fund the RNLI’s lifesaving work, and an army of volunteer RNLI fundraisers who commit their time and energy to raising cash.

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The announcement that the 2016 Tour de Yorkshire will support the RNLI was an incredible boost to our charity. Not only will this fantastic event, due to start in 100 days, help us raise thousands of pounds for the RNLI in Yorkshire, but it will enable us get vital safety messages out to the public.

And it will no doubt help build awareness of the crucial work carried out by RNLI volunteers away from the coast to rescue people from floods and to educate everyone from school children to fisherman about how to stay safe on, in or near water.

When the first lifeboats were stationed on the Yorkshire coast at the beginning of the 19th century, most lifeboat crews were fishermen and the majority of the people they rescued were other fishermen, professional mariners or ship passengers.

Two centuries later, the fishing fleet is vastly diminished, large ships rarely get into trouble and the RNLI does much more than rescue people from the sea. Our lifeboat service has adapted to ensure we can meet the needs of all sea and beach users, with more inshore lifeboats to deal with the thousands of incidents each year which happen close to shore, often involving holiday-makers and people surfing, kayaking and sea angling.

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The RNLI Flood Rescue Team is a relatively new addition to the charity’s lifesaving service.

Specially trained for the risks involved when working in or around fast moving flood water, they respond on request to perform search and rescue during severe floods, integrating with the Fire and Rescue Service.

Just last month they rescued 300 people in Cumbria and were also on standby to respond in Yorkshire, but were not required.

Our lifeguards, working with local authorities, keep people safe beaches, directing people towards the safest places to swim, helping find lost children and carrying out first aid as well as rescuing people from the sea.

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Many of those they help come from inland areas for day trips and seaside holidays, often with little knowledge of coastal hazards or an understanding of how tides can change the coastal landscape, making a pleasant stroll along the beach a potentially dangerous activity if wrongly timed.

To help reduce the number of incidents, the RNLI delivers safety sessions in schools and helps provide a free, practical outdoor swimming and water safety programme, Swim Safe.

We also deliver targeted advice and events for everyone from divers, surfers and fishermen to leisure sailors and walkers, all aimed to reduce fatalities and keep people safe.

We are hoping the Tour de Yorkshire will help promote our vital safety messages. But throughout the event, our volunteers will also be holding collections and raising funds during what is also our annual fundraising campaign, Mayday, when many RNLI fundraising events have a yellow welly theme, taking inspiration from our crew members’ well-known yellow kit.

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If you are planning to be on the route cheering on the Tour de Yorkshire participants, keep an eye open for our RNLI volunteers. We’ll be soaking up the atmosphere and cheering too, but we’ll also be raising vital funds to help save lives and keep people safe, whether it’s on the Yorkshire coast, inland or beyond.

* To support the RNLI’s Mayday campaign go to For information about how you can volunteer and get involved with the charity during the Tour de Yorkshire, call 0300 3009902.

* Alison Levett is the RNLI’s public relations manager for the North.