Philip Smith, RNLI Press Officer, Happisburgh

Philip Smith, RNLI Press Officer, Happisburgh


For our non-diabetes related talk this year on 24th September the Group was delighted to welcome back Philip whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for the RNLI gave members a fascinating insight into the RNLI service here on the north coast, and particularly at Happisburgh were Philip is based.

He took the audience back to the times before the lifeboat service was formed in 1824, when at the turn of the previous century each parish had to bear the cost for burial of any poor soul washed up on their beach. This helped drive the formation of rescue boats so that today there are some 235 stations in the British Isles with a total of 330 lifeboats. He also reminded everyone that this incredible service is funded and operated almost entirely by donations, legacies and the service of dedicated volunteers. All the more remarkable when just the £2.5 million cost of Cromer’s latest lifeboat alone is considered.

Philip’s own experience of lifeboats started as a young lad helping his grandfather maintain Cromer’s No 2 boat, working then for former Coxswain Richard Davies (1945 – 2010). He then joined the Cromer crew in the early 70s, eventually moving over to the Happisburgh team. He explained how each station is run by its own committee, and mentioned the different roles of Happisburgh’s 25-member team. In earlier times all would have been fisher-folk but now volunteers come from diverse backgrounds and all receive centrally organized formal training.

Charting the evolution of lifeboat design by reference and illustration of the progressively updated boats allocated to Happisburgh since 1965 (when the station re-opened) he emphasized the constant and continuing improvements to safety and performance. All boats are now self-righting and are very well equipped. This equipment approach applies equally to the crew who now for example are issued with dry suits, helmets and well–fitting lifejackets that do not restrict movement. In this respect a video showing both tractor launching and the net-recovery system used at Happisburgh in rough weather was particularly revealing.

Now that the local lifeguards are also managed by the RNLI there was discussion on the importance of using modern lifejackets that inflate automatically and keep the wearer’s head above water and face-up. Thus the RNLI are promoting the need for all those who go on water, whether for leisure or work, to wear or carry one, and to regularly check the condition of its inflator.