On 2 January 2022 Chiswick RNLI and the other three Thames lifeboat stations celebrated 20 years of search and rescue on the tidal river.
The judge in the inquiry into the tragic sinking of the Marchioness where 51 people drowned in 1989 recommended that the tidal Thames needed a dedicated search and rescue service. The RNLI stepped in and established four lifeboat stations which became operational on 2 January 2002. Three of these, including Chiswick, have crew on standby 24/7.
No one anticipated how busy the Thames stations would be. Over the last 20 years, 4,308 people have been rescued and 622 lives saved.
Alongside the operational side, Chiswick RNLI reaches out to the community with education and fund-raising volunteers. Thousands of children have learnt about the RNLI from school visits and visits to the station where the duty crew demonstrate the capabilities of their craft.
A fund-raising comedy night at the George IV is now an annual event (with Covid exception in 2021) as is the stall at the Chiswick House dog show each September. Many local businesses have supported the comedy nights and regular talks.
There are many memorable and many tragic incidents from the last 20 years. Some that stand out:
- Rescue of 60 Boat Race spectators cut off by the tide during the 2015 race, broadcast on BBC news
- Protester who stopped the 2012 boat race just by the lifeboat station and twenty minutes later advanced first aid of a collapsed bowman on the Oxford boat.
- Recovery of mother and baby from the water in Isleworth in 2008.
- Revival of collapsed veteran rower with no pulse in 2009.
- Whale incidents in 2006 and 2021.
- Rescue of 50 racing rowers whose boats sank during one stormy weekend in 2007.
- Recovery of broken down passenger vessel with 122 passengers in 2013.
Chiswick RNLI station manager Wayne Bellamy was involved in setting up the RNLI search and rescue service on the Thames in 2001 and has been running the station ever since. He commented:
“Following the inquiry into the Marchioness tragedy it was clear that a dedicated search and rescue service on the tidal Thames was needed. Over the last twenty years 622 lives saved and 4308 people rescued shows how essential this service is.
“Our contribution at Chiswick with 179 lives saved and 1828 people rescued shows that the upper tideway is not the quieter stretch some thought it would be; though not really surprising if you see our stretch of river as equivalent to 25 miles of busy coastline with several million people living close by.”
“Chiswick lifeboat station is one of three which has a duty crew of four on standby 24/7 with a launch time of 90 seconds and arrival on scene within 15 minutes, though the typical time is usually much less than this. This is only possible with the dedication of full-time crew and a panel of over 60 volunteers working 12 hour shifts. We have established a close working relationship with the PLA and the other blue light services on the river and work seamlessly together on major incidents.
“When they see the scale of life saving activity of the Thames lifeboats people are often surprised to hear that the life saving service run by the RNLI is entirely funded by public donations; we are very grateful for the local and national support that makes it all possible.’
The RNLI charity also saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts.
The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.
Click here for more information on the RNLI.