Life on the water in Portishead - Lifeboats

PUBLISHED: 09:00 27 January 2014

The lifeboat in action

The lifeboat in action


A busy lifeboat team talks to Sarah Ford about its exciting new plans

Photos by Helen Lazenby

The lifeboat crewThe lifeboat crew

Since The Portishead Lifeboat Trust was formed 18 years ago the crew has been out on 366 call outs and saved the lives of 14 people.

As well as boat users and swimmers, the team has also come to the aid of injured cliff walkers and those who become stuck in the treacherous mud flats.

Volunteers provide a 24 hour service but conditions for the crew at their base are less than ideal.

Currently operating out of a concrete garage without proper facilities, the crew look set to have a new boathouse that they and their shore helpers deserve.

Bristol Channel Appeal

As well as the Portishead project – for which the RNLI are currently in the tendering process – the charity also plans to upgrade facilities at Weston-super-Mare.

These two projects are run under the wider title of The Bristol Channel RNLI fundraising appeal.

To find out how you can help visit

Support Portishead lifeboat’s vital fund raising efforts at the the following events:

5 April: Victoria Rooms, Bristol Dursley. A performance by Dursley Male Voice Choir and Wynne Evans, hosted by BBC Bristol’s Geoff Twentyman.

6 July: Portishead Raft Race

Planning permission has been granted for a new building which has been designed for the storage and maintenance of the lifeboat and launching tractor and carriage. Crew currently have to negotiate the boat out of a cramped space before getting access to their kit which they often have to put on while it is still damp as this has no suitable place in which to dry off.

The new permanent lifeboat station in an improved location will also include modern changing facilities and a room for operational planning, local training and meetings. Toilets, a small workshop and a charity souvenir sales point are also included in the design.

The facility is being built for the team by the RNLI and marks a key milestone in the journey to eventually adopt The Portishead Lifeboat Trust.

Colin Williams, RNLI Regional Operations Manager, says: ‘The Trustees of the RNLI have agreed, in principle, to pursue the adoption of The Portishead and Bristol lifeboat from the Portishead Lifeboat Trust. However, the RNLI will be unable to do this until a suitable operations site has been constructed and the requisite shore facilities put in place to enable an RNLI B class inshore lifeboat and its launching equipment to operate effectively.”

The Lifeboat Family

Everyone at Portishead Lifeboat has a different story as to why they want to become part of the trust – either as crew or as shore helpers and fund raisers. For the Herbert family, it seems that lifesaving is in the genes.

Dave Herbert volunteered on the Portishead Lifeboat with his father Raymond, who was one of the founder members of the Trust.

Dave’s daughter Samantha joined the trust as a 16-year-old cadet, and today the 19-year-old is keeping the family tradition going as a member of the crew.

Samantha’s grandmother Joan is vice patron of the trust and has kept newspaper cuttings of rescues going back to the days of the service provided by the Portishead Yacht and Sailing Club - a forerunner to today’s trust.

She says that when the crew are out the worst place to be is on the shore not knowing what’s going on and waiting for news.

Helen Lazenby, PR and Fundraiser and wife of crew member Ian agrees: “If they get called out in the middle of the night and it’s blowing a hooley it’s not very often you get back to sleep. You do truly believe they are going to be ok because of the training the crew has had but you do worry. But you wouldn’t be able to stop them going that’s for sure.”

Being part of the crew does not suit everyone, as Adam Forrest explains: “We have had people turn up thinking it’s going to be their new thing but they have gone out on the boat, come back to shore and that’s the last we’ve ever seen of them.

“The sea can get absolutely massive. I did a job a few years ago and the waves were as big as a house; it can be wild out there.

“But we’ve got a really good training programme. People have to be prepared to turn up for training, muck in with fund raising and a sense of humour is essential!”

The Portishead lifeboat operates in an area with its own particular challenges as Dave explains: “We have the second highest rise and fall of tide in the world which creates its own problems. We’ve also got everything really from mud to rocks, to cliffs, sand banks. We cover up to Bristol hence we are called Portishead and Bristol Lifeboat.”

Crew members are paged when there’s an emergency and obviously a shout can happen any time of day or night.

Dave recalls: “We were onced paged at six o’ clock in the morning after our Christmas do!”

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