Why we have low water launches

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Early (very early) on a Sunday morning in August, the RNLI Rye Harbour crew was out training for a low water launch. This is necessary as the river Rother is tidal and at low tide the Atlantic 85 cannot navigate the river as there is not enough water in the channel. Of all the 237 RNLI lifeboat stations Rye Harbour has the longest distance to travel for a low water launch.

Whilst on the shore watching the practice, a few members of the public asked me to tell them about the training and why it took place as it did.

It takes a lot of dedication and a committed crew to see this operation through from beginning to end, especially in training, because during such a session many aspects of the launch will be practised more than once and with different crew members. This session took seven hours in total, seven new recruits all learning together. After the many hours on the beach, the boat and carriage return to the station where it has to be washed and made search and rescue (SAR) ready for any forthcoming shout.

In preparation, at the boathouse it is important to make sure that all the necessary equipment is put on board in case the boat is actually required to launch for a shout. The boat on the carriage is driven by the tractor down to the beach at the harbour mouth and then the boat is launched. This necessitates a long drive into the sea as the tide is a long way out at this point. The operation needs to be planned meticulously, enabling the boat to be launched as quickly as possible and safely.

Gary Collard, a senior member of the shore crew, acted as head launcher and talked through the various capabilities of the equipment. He emphasised that there are so many elements that are needed to be understood to make the launch safe. One of the most complex operations is for the tractor to take the boat and carriage over the steep incline of shingle down to the shore. Even harder can be the return journey up the steep incline as the shingle is constantly moving. Tractor drivers need to maintain their competence and occasions like this give them a good chance of keeping their skills sharp.

Image Credits: Kt bruce .

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