There can hardly be a greater London Legacy than that of saving lives of Londoners every day on the River Thames.
For centuries the Thames has been the iconic lifeblood of our glorious city. But there is also a darker side to this ancient tidal river.
This is the calling and passion of many supremely dedicated men and women who work for the amazing Royal National Lifeboat Institution or RNLI.
Chiswick RNLI lifeboat station is one of four on the Thames and is the second busiest in the UK and Ireland. Since its launch in 2002, Chiswick has attended over 3500 incidents and rescued over 1730 people.
Unlike other stations, Chiswick operates around the clock crew, ready to launch within 90 seconds. Full time crew work alongside volunteers from all sections of society, who all give up their time to help save lives on the Thames.
This is the story of Mark Turrell and James Anthony who have dedicated their lives for very good personal reasons to the RNLI.“The Lifeboats were put on the Thames due to one incident back in 1989 – which was the collision between the Marchioness and the Bowbelle.”
4:00 The Thames didn’t have a dedicated rescue service until 1989 after a dredger, the Bowbelle collided with a party boat named the Marchioness, taking 50 lives as the boat sank in about 30 seconds. It stands as one of the greatest tragedies the river and city has ever seen.There was no investigation, and the victims’ families had to press charges and prosecute—although no one individual was ever found to be at fault. But after the disaster it became clear that a service was needed to standby on the Thames and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution was born.
7:50 The RNLI has 9 full time staff members and more volunteers that standby. Around the coast the RNLI is solely volunteer base, but with traffic and London’s busy nature—you’d never make it to the boat in time to make a difference. They run a tight 90 second deadline to respond and hit the water—every station has this so that they can overlap and be on scene in 15 minutes or under. “I’ve slept in this room more than my own bedroom the last two years.”
17:00 Mark and James have seen everything on the Thames. They respond to hundreds of calls a year that range in seriousness from loss of life—to company directors naked and stranded from being dared to swim across the river. The Thames is a serious body of water that takes 8 hours for the tide to go out, but only 4 for it to rush back in.As such, the RNLI is a highly trained group with a very serious position in keeping Londoner’s safe with the river that has been the lifeblood of the city for centuries.
Thankfully the volunteers and staff get assistance for the gravest of incidents, and the full time staff make sure that the volunteers are ready before exposing them to the more extreme cases of rescue, and sadly, recovery as well.
Marks on reasons for joining the service are quite personal, as are many others, and the crew do their job with the upmost respect for those on the river—whether that’s a bunch of party goers on swan floats and a bouncy castle floating the wrong way, dogs washed away with the current, and all matter of accidents and dangers.
You can follow the RNLI and the amazing work they do at their website Twitter and Facebook pages.
Mark also successfully crowdfunded to start a program teaching how to gives dogs CPR, something he just put into practice saving his own dog’s life.
Mark and James were kind enough to take me out on the river, and although the recording was too muffled to use, I can attest to their skill and professionalism from seeing it firsthand, and I can’t encourage you enough to support them as they continue to protect London and its waters.