Swanage RNLI

Calling Out The Crew

The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea. Saving lives off the Dorset coast from Swanage since 1875.

Maritime Rescues are co-ordinated by the MCA (Maritime Coastguard Agency). They are a government agency and have network of Coastguard Operations Centres (CGOC) around the coast with the National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) in Hampshire. We are co-ordinated and tasked by Solent Coastguard.


If you are in distress around the coast or out at sea then get in touch with the Coastguard. You can do this by dialling ‘999’ and asking for ‘Coastguard’. If you’re at sea the best method of communication is by VHF radio. VHF radio allows other vessels in the area to hear your problem and maybe come to your aid. RNLI lifeboats are also fitted with equipment that allows them to home in on VHF transmissions which can be really useful at night, in bad weather or if people are unsure of their exact location.

Once the Coastguard have a requirement for a lifeboat they need to get in touch with the nearest station. All RNLI crew members carry a pager like this one.


The first indication that someone needs assistance is a message on the DLA’s pager saying ‘Launch Request Coastguard’.

This message is for the Lifeboat Operations Manager (LOM), he or she is the primary launching authority for the station’s lifeboat(s). That means that they will immediately contact the local coastguard control centre to find out details of the emergency. They will then discuss with the coastguard to decide which lifeboat(s) will be required and if infact it is a job for a lifeboat. Once this has been decided the crew’s pagers will be activated displaying a message which tells them which of the lifeboats is required to launch. This would be in the form ‘Launch ALB’, ‘Launch ILB’ or ‘Launch Both Boats’. Our LOM has 5 Deputy Launching Authorities (DLA) so that he isn’t on call all the time. They have a rota and are on call in the same way the crew are.

Once the crew have a launch message they’ll make their way to the lifeboat station at best speed. They have no special privileges, blue flashing lights etc and aren’t allowed to break the speed limit. In the summer its often quicker to run or cycle.

Once at the lifeboat station the shore crew will make the boat(s) ready for launch and the Coxswain or Helmsman will pick his crew and get ready to go to sea. By now the duty launching authority would have either arrived at the lifeboat station or telephoned in to brief the crew on what the job is. The whole process is pretty quick, we aim to have the ILB afloat in 8 mins, the ALB in 10 mins.

Once the lifeboat(s) are at sea they will make contact by VHF radio with Solent Coastguard. Any new information will be passed to the lifeboat, a list of crew numbers will also be passed to the coastguard to ensure that they know who is onboard should the worst happen. The whole time they are at sea the lifeboat crew will stay in touch with Solent Coastguard, this is to ensure the safety of the crew but also to pass information back and forth. When the lifeboat(s) are back at station after finishing their tasking they will be recovered back to the lifeboat station. There’s still plenty to do though, the lifeboats must be washed down to the get rid of the salt water, refuelled and restocked with any equipment that has been used/damaged and kit stowed away so that they are ready to go for the next launch.

The Coxswain or Helmsman will also have to speak with the LOM or DLA who will have been filling in a return of service to RNLI HQ. This return details all aspects of the rescue and must be accurate so its important that this is done while its still fresh in people’s minds. Once all this is done the volunteer crew can go back to doing whatever it was they were doing before their pager went off!

If you think that this is something you’d like to be involved with then why not have a look at our joining page.