Busiest year for sea call outs

Richard BatsonA rising tide of stay-at-home holidays and pleasure boating has seen the nation's lifeboats launch more than 9,000 times in a year for the first time.Richard Batson

A rising tide of stay-at-home holidays and pleasure boating has seen the nation's lifeboats launch more than 9,000 times in a year for the first time.

In Norfolk and Suffolk, RNLI crews took to the water more than 250 times and rescued more than 200 casualties, while its lifeguards helped 679 people at seven beaches.

Nationally, the charity launched lifeboats 9,154 times in 2009 across the UK and Ireland - the first time the figure has topped 9,000 in its 186-year history.

In the East region, covering Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent, eight out of 24 lifeboat stations - including Gorleston and Happis-burgh - had their busiest year for a decade.

Crews had to cope with a huge rise in the numbers of pleasure boats and surfers in difficulty.

There were 975 emergencies involving pleasure craft, an increase of 192 on 2008 figures, but the number of fishing boats needing help fell from 56 to 44.

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Divisional RNLI inspector Andrew Ashton, said: "It was a very busy year with some stations recording significant increases on previous years and this can partly be explained by the increase in the number of people deciding to take their holidays close to home, rather than going abroad, due to the economic climate."

National operations director Michael Vlasto said statistics over the past 10 years, during which lifeboats launched nearly 80,000 times and rescued 76,489 people showed that coastal recreation was fuelling more and more launches.

The busiest RNLI lifeboat station overall in 2009 was Tower, on the River Thames, launching 380 times and rescuing 148 people. The busiest coastal station was Poole in Dorset, where crews launched 200 times and rescued 242 people.

The charity's flood rescue team also helped hundreds of residents at Cockermouth, showing its service is not confined to beaches and the sea.

RNLI lifeguard services also had their busiest year since they started in 2001, responding to 13,588 incidents and helping 15,954 people. The Norfolk teams at Gorleston, Great Yarmouth, Hemsby, Cromer, Mundesley, Sea Palling and Shering-ham attended 669 incidents and helped 679 people. In 2008 they attended 603 incidents and helped 664 people.

The charity operates more than 230 lifeboat stations and more than 140 lifeguard units. Since it was founded in 1824 it has saved more than 137,000 lives.

The RNLI, which relies on public donations, fundraising and legacies for its income, is asking people to support its annual SOS Day on January 29. See www.rnli.org.uk/sos for details.

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