20 years of saving lives: Hoylake RNLI mark the anniversary of the hovercraft

The inshore rescue hovercraft (IRH) has been an invaluable asset to Hoylake Lifeboat Station since 2016; aiding over 140 people in the six-year period. The latest figures come as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) celebrates 20 years since the lifesaving craft joined its fleet.

The amphibious inshore rescue hovercraft has enabled the RNLI to carry out its lifesaving work in areas inaccessible to conventional lifeboats since 2002.

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.

In 2016, the hovercraft Hurley Spirit arrived at Hoylake RNLI on a trial basis and became a permanent asset to the station in 2019; making it the most recent station to receive the craft. Having aided over 140 people and saved three lives over the six-year period, the hovercraft has been an invaluable asset for its volunteer crews in saving lives at sea.

For the Whiteley family, volunteering on the hovercraft has been a family affair since its arrival six years ago as siblings, James, Dan and Rosalind are all qualified hovercraft crew at Hoylake RNLI.

James Whiteley, Hovercraft Commander and Pilot at Hoylake RNLI, said, “It’s great to have my brother and sister on crew, as it allows us to have a special connection in that we’ve seen things that a lot of other people won’t have seen. It goes beyond the station, it goes into family life.”

James, along with Dan and Rosalind, are continuing the Whiteley family tradition of being part of the RNLI as their father and grandfather were also on crew at Hoylake RNLI.

James continued, “I’ve been part of the crew for 18 years now but when I was growing up, my dad and granddad were also lifeboat crew so I’ve always been involved in some way, whether it was raising funds for the charity or volunteering as crew. I feel like I’ve been involved with the RNLI all my life.

“One of my most memorable rescues on the hovercraft involved having my siblings on crew. It involved two guys who were stuck on a boat at Thurstaston. I was the Commander, and the two guys had come in late at night and got trapped in a gully, as the tide had gone out. It felt like a family affair having brother and sister onboard. It’s great to be involved in keeping the family legacy going.”

James’ brother, Dan Whiteley, is the Lifeboat Press Officer and hovercraft crew at Hoylake RNLI. He said, “The RNLI has been a huge part of my family for many generations and the fact that I, along with my brother and sister, are continuing this family tradition is really special.”

The IRH has extended Hoylake RNLI’s lifesaving capability around the Mersey and Dee estuary, including north Wales and north Liverpool beaches. The station’s proximity to the Hilbre Island group, where tidal cut off is a regular occurrence, allows for better search and rescue resilience to support RNLI’s West Kirkby Lifeboat Station.

Dan continues, “The hovercraft is a very specific asset designed for different terrain such as mudflats, sandbanks, low-tides, difficult to reach coastal locations which, at Hoylake, our wide operating area has all of those geographical features.

“It has become a real asset to the station, as we’re able to reach locations not accessible to the traditional lifeboat. Hoylake has always been a busy station but since receiving the hovercraft, we’ve become much busier.”

Hoylake RNLI have launched over 150 times with the hovercraft since it went into service in 2016.

Dan concludes, “There have been occasions that without the hovercraft, some people wouldn’t be alive today. It’s safe to say that it has had a positive impact on our lifesaving work at the station.”

To find out more about the RNLI’s hovercraft, visit: RNLI.org/hovercraft

The RNLI urges those on or near coastal waters to:

  • Check the weather forecast and tide times before visiting the coast.
  • If you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, remember to FLOAT – fight the urge to thrash around, lean back, and extend your arms and legs.
  • If you find yourself in an emergency or spot someone else in trouble, you should call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.

Image: Hoylake RNLI’s hovercraft, Hurley Spirit, returning from a shout in Leasowe Bay in 2020. Credit: RNLI/David Edwards

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