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RNLI launch maroons to be scrapped

PUBLISHED: 11:12 06 October 2008 | UPDATED: 21:26 05 July 2010

Cromer lifeboat mechanic Paul Watling with one of the last maroons.

Cromer lifeboat mechanic Paul Watling with one of the last maroons.

A rocket hisses into the air and explodes with a thud over a lifeboat as it crashes into the surf on a life-saving mission.

It is a spectacle seen and heard by generations and a timeless tradition in the lifeboat world.

A rocket hisses into the air and explodes with a thud over a lifeboat as it crashes into the surf on a life-saving mission.

It is a spectacle seen and heard by generations and a timeless tradition in the lifeboat world.

But soon the launches will take place in silence - apart from a roar of engines and maybe a howling wind - as the RNLI maroons are scrapped for good.

Two years ago major restrictions were put on maroon firing for safety reasons, after a series of accidents and misfires.

But now crews have been told that when the current supplies run out, that is the last of the maroons.

It is an end of an era, stretching back to the 1920s, which will be mourned at Cromer, where station operations manager Richard Leeds said the rockets were an important public relations tool.

“People like to know when the lifeboat launches. They run to the cliffs to see what is happening, and it might encourage them to give donations to the RNLI when they see it at work.

“The maroons are expensive at £50 a time, but they are also a warning for people to keep out of the way as the crew hurries to a launch. I hope they find something to replace them.”

Like other seaside towns, the resort has been used to hearing the maroons launch 300m into the air before exploding - once for the inshore boat, twice for the offshore one.

News of the maroons' demise has been sent out in a circular to stations updating them on pyrotechnics - such as flares and rescue line throwers - made by well-known fireworks makers Pains Wessex. The company is part of the Chemring group which has rationalised its products and no longer makes the maroons.

RNLI inspector for coast operations Adrian Carey accepted the PR value of maroons, and said attempts were ongoing to find a suitable replacement.

Trials with crow scarer gas guns revealed the sound was too directional, and easily lost amid town streets, unlike the high altitude maroon boom which covered a wider area.

Air raid-style sirens were another possibility, and experiments were being carried out with station-mounted klaxons and hand-held ones on the beach.

The earlier safety clampdown resulted from misfiring accidents which included a mortar going through a crew room window causing a leg wound, someone being left with a burst ear drum, and another maroon ricocheting off bunting into a café.

The biggest local maroon tragedy was at Caister's independent station in September 1991 when Benny Read was hit and killed by a mortar-style device as he set it off on the beach.

Mr Carey said maroons were now only allowed when the pager system failed, or a casualty was in earshot of the station, and would be encouraged to “hang on a bit longer” knowing a crew was on its way.

However they were no longer needed as a back-up because of the availability of mobile phones and text messages.

The RNLI was keen to keep the public informed of rescues, which it did through press coverage, and its website, where people could download a desktop pager flagging up live launches. And it was also considering setting up phone text alerts for lifeboat supporters.

But Mr Carey said they had not yet found a product which did what maroons did safely, and would not consider using ordinary fireworks. But “we are still looking,” he assured.

>Download the RNLI's live launch pager from www.rnli.org.uk

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