RNLI stations set up after Marchioness tragedy pass 20-year mark

Chiswick RNLI and three other Thames RNLI stations, which were established following the tragic sinking of the Marchioness where 51 people drowned, are celebrating 20 years of service this month.

The judge in the inquiry into the Marchioness disaster recommended that the tidal Thames needed a dedicated search and rescue service. The RNLI stepped in and established four lifeboat stations, which became operational on 2 January 2002. Three of these, including Chiswick RNLI, have crew on standby 24/7.

Chiswick RNLI lifeboat station is the second busiest in the UK and Ireland. It has a launch time of 90 seconds and arrival on scene within 15 minutes, though the typical time is usually much less than this. The RNLI says that since its search and rescue service on the Thames started in 2002, Chiswick lifeboat has attended over 4,000 incidents and rescued over 1,800 people.

There are many memorable and many tragic incidents from the last 20 years. Some that stand out:

  • Rescue of 60 boat race spectators cut off by the tide during the 2015 race, broadcast on BBC news
  • Protester who stopped the 2012 boat race just by the lifeboat station and 20 minutes later advanced first aid of a collapsed bowman on the Oxford boat.
  • Recovery of mother and baby from the water in Isleworth in 2008.
  • Revival of collapsed veteran rower with no pulse in 2009.
  • Whale incidents in 2006 and 2021.
  • Rescue of 50 racing rowers whose boats sank during one stormy weekend in 2007.
  • Recovery of broken down passenger vessel with 122 passengers in 2013.

Chiswick RNLI station manager Wayne Bellamy was involved in setting up the RNLI search and rescue service on the Thames and has been running the station ever since. Bellamy says: “Following the inquiry into the Marchioness tragedy it was clear that a dedicated search and rescue service on the tidal Thames was needed. Over the last 20 years 622 lives saved and 4308 people rescued shows how essential this service is.

“Our contribution at Chiswick with 179 lives saved and 1,828 people rescued shows that the upper tideway is not the quieter stretch some thought it would be; though not really surprising if you see our stretch of river as equivalent to 25 miles of busy coastline with several million people living close by. This is only possible with the dedication of full-time crew and a panel of over 60 volunteers working 12-hour shifts. We have established a close working relationship with the Port of London Authority and the other blue light services on the river and work seamlessly together on major incidents.”

Alongside the operational side, Chiswick RNLI reaches out to the community with education and fundraising volunteers. Thousands of children have learnt about the RNLI from school visits and visits to the station where the duty crew demonstrate the capabilities of their craft.

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