Inspired to join RNLI crew after my rescue

Generations of east Cork families have been crew members of Ballycotton lifeboat. After she was rescued by the RNLI herself, Sile Scanlon decided she wanted to become a volunteer with her local station, writes Chris Dunne
Inspired to join RNLI crew after my rescue

LOVE OF THE SEA: Ballycotton Lifeboat crew member Sile Scanlon (and inset) Pictures: David Keane

SILE Scanlon is one of the youngest volunteers with Ballycotton RNLI. The 19-year-old joined the volunteer lifeboat crew after she herself was rescued.

Her world lies within 10 minutes of the station, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

“Growing up in Ballycotton, I have always had a love for the sea and with my family so involved, the RNLI has always been close to my heart,” says Sile. “I always wanted to join the crew.”

Sile became a member of Ballycotton Lifeboat two years ago and has been involved in 10 rescues.

“I always knew that I wanted to join the crew, but when I was rescued myself, I experienced first-hand the value of the charity’s life-saving work,” she says.

Sile recalls the idyllic summer’s day when she and three pals took off for Ballycotton Island, two kilometres out from the village.

“It seemed the perfect day to take out the kayaks,” she says, describing the day she was rescued, two years ago.

It was a balmy summer’s day in August. Swimmers gathered at the well-known bathing area along the Ballycotton cliff walk. Children frolicked in the water, people walked along the pier enjoying an ice-cream from the local shop.

“Four of us decided to kayak out as far as Ballycotton light-house,” says Sile. “We spent a couple of hours out on the island enjoying the sunshine and then noticed the weather was beginning to freshen. There was a big swell between the two islands. We decided not to risk kayaking back to land in case the kayaks capsized. We put in a call to the life-boat before we got into any more danger,” says Sile.

“We raised the alarm and made our way to the lighthouse where Ballycotton RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat came to our assistance.”

The group were in no imminent danger.

“But because of the weather changing for the worst, we decided not to risk making our way back to Ballycotton ourselves,” says Sile.

“We called 112, registering that there was a problem. The lifeboat crew are alerted by pager and they respond at once. We were told to stay put and the lifeboat would be with us in 10 minutes.”

Sile and her companions were soon back on terra firma, safe and sound.

“My uncle, Eolan Walsh, is the coxswain of the lifeboat,” says Sile. “Living in the village, I often called into the lifeboat station for a chat with Eolan.”

Generations of east Cork families have been involved in the Ballycotton Lifeboat crew over the years. Colum Sliney handed back his pager this year after 53 years service with the lifeboat.

“My grand-father, grand-uncle, and father, were all lifeboat crew members,” says Colum, who saved 162 lives at sea.”

Colum’s son, William, is also currently a member of Ballycotton Lifeboat crew.

Sile, steeped in Ballycotton’s rich lifeboat history, was welcomed aboard and went on three lifeboat exercise trips as part of her training.

“I did a stint in the RNLI Sea-Survival Centre in Poole in Dorset, England,” says Sile. “The UK College in the south cCoast welcomes lifeboat crew members and lifeguards from around the UK and Ireland. It gives crew members practical experience in sea safety and survival techniques.”

The training facilities include a lifeboat bridge simulator and a sea survival pool.

“And I’m currently doing a radio course,” says Sile. “Also I am studying Emergency Services, Fetac 5, in Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa.”

Is she a strong swimmer?

“You have to be able to swim at least 10 metres to become a lifeboat crew member,” says Sile.

“Also, a good level of fitness is required and good eye-sight. Anyone can join the lifeboat crew for training from age 17 years upwards.” It costs €1,502 a year to train a lifeboat member.

“Whether a volunteer is a seagoing member or is on the shore helping to prepare the lifeboat for launch, or fundraising to make a rescue possible, their contribution really does make a difference,” says Sile.

The lifeboat crew all carry pagers 24/7.

“There are two full-time crew members in the station who are always on call and always on duty; the coxswain and the boat mechanic,” says Sile.

Sile is alerted by the pager she carries if her services are required.

“The beeps are really loud,” says Sile. “So even if you are asleep in bed, you will be alerted. The first members to respond are typically in a six-mile radius.”

Successful rescues are all about the team working together and this happens even before the lifeboat has been launched. The lifeboat crew and shore helpers all work together to make sure the lifeboat is launched safely. The average time to launch an in-shore lifeboat is seven minutes.

Sile recalls a sea rescue that she was involved in.

“Last summer, a yacht with 10 people aboard was returning from Fastnet when the vessel lost its rudder and the boat was unable to steer,” she says.

“The yacht was 90 miles out and it was towed in to safety. The crews communicate with the coastguard and work together for a successful outcome.”

Sile says it is important to carry a device to communicate when out on the water.

“We had water-proof pouches to carry our phones when we were rescued off Ballycotton lighthouse,” she says.

“The water-proof pouches are a good idea for your phone if there is no radio available or if you end up in the water,” says Sile.

“Boats use VHF to communicate distress to all shore stations and vessels in range.”

Ballycotton Lifeboat and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, (RNLI), are solely funded by donations and fund-raising activities and rely on them to operate their vital lifesaving service.

“The Ballycotton RNLI shop at the lifeboat station is very popular,” says Sile. “It has home-wares, clothing, tasty treats and greeting cards.”

Sile is a very proud member of the Ballycotton Lifeboat RNLI crew.

“I find it is very satisfying to give back to the community and to be part of a team,” she says.

Over nearly 150 years as a lifeboat station, the crews at Ballycotton have been presented with 19 awards for gallantry, the most recent being in 2002.

For another rescue, in 1936, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals were awarded.

Ballycotton Lifeboat is currently recruiting new volunteer members. For more information contact Ballycotton Lifeboat:021-4646903. You can also contact Regional fundraising manager, Mary Creedon on mary_creedon@rnli.org.uk

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