Thursday, March 30, 2023
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Littlehampton RNLI station manager celebrates 40 years of saving lives at sea

Nick White has been the Lifeboat Operations Manager at Littlehampton’s RNLI boathouse since 2008 and was recognised in 2022 for 40 years of voluntary service to the RNLI having started his volunteering as crew, moving on to helm and launch authority duties prior to his current role.

Nick’s RNLI story began in his home town of Weston-super-Mare where he spent some of his childhood around the boathouse accompanying his father who was the station treasurer. It became apparent to the lifeboat crew that Nick’s tea making skills met the required standard thereby paving the way for him to become crew in the mid-1970s. Recalling his experiences from those times Nick said:

RNLI/Nick White

‘The lifeboat at Weston was launched from a slipway, said to be the second longest at the time at 370 feet – it needed to be that long to reach the sea at low water due to the huge tidal range in the Bristol Channel.’

Nick began his crewing on the Maclachlan Class inshore lifeboat, similar to a large speedboat. The station also had a D-Class, an inflatable, being an earlier version of the type presently in use by the Littlehampton RNLI volunteer crews. Remembering a significant shout in 1978 Nick said:

‘It was November and we launched both Weston RNLI’s boats straight into heavy weather conditions, I was helming the D-Class. Three boys around 14 years of age had become cut off by the tide and were attempting to stay above the water level in a cave on the south facing cliff of Brean Down, a peninsula at one end of Weston Bay. With three RNLI crew aboard the D-Class we headed into the breaking waves at the shoreline with the southerly gale pushing us from behind. The conditions were very difficult and it took several attempts, but we managed to safely recover the three boys and also two coastguards who had gone in to rescue them – transferring two at a time to the larger lifeboat. Once all were clear of the cave we started ferrying them to the beach.’

Nick adds: ‘The kids were terrified. The conditions were extreme for the D-Class and we were formally recognised by the RNLI with the “Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum” and the “Ralph Glister Award” for the most meritorious inshore lifeboat service of 1978. A couple of years later I also received a “Vellum Service Certificate” for a similar shout.’

Nick’s photographic career necessitated moving from the south-west of the UK to the south-east, but he was keen to continue volunteering for the RNLI. He was put in touch with Peter Cheney, the Honorary Secretary at that time for Littlehampton lifeboat station, and he remembers being warmly welcomed by the station and crew in March 1987. Nick served on the Littlehampton crew until 1996, obtaining his 20 years as crew long service award during this period. The day job, however, necessitated a move to London so although still sailing for leisure from Littlehampton when time allowed Nick was unable to remain on the crew.

In 2004 Nick was living locally again and took up the voluntary role of Deputy Launch Authority – the person who liaises between HM Coastguard and the RNLI crews when a lifeboat launch is required and who also holds key responsibility for all practical decisions related to the launch. In 2008 the role of Lifeboat Operations Manager, who has overall responsibility for the station, became vacant and Nick has continually served the station in this capacity since then with his many years of operational experience being highly valued by today’s crews. Musing on the changes he has seen at Littlehampton RNLI over the years Nick said:

‘A lifeboat station moves like the sea. Lots of constants, but forever changing. People move on, others come in and at the core is a bunch of committed people in various roles who collectively make it work. My role takes a lot of often unseen hours and there are challenges, not only associated with the job that we do but also in making sure that the team is running effectively, dependably and happily. A lot of work, but immensely rewarding.’

Nick and his wife Emma, who has previously volunteered at the station, were invited by the RNLI to a volunteering excellence celebration at Hampton Court in November 2022.

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