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TAKE A LOOK inside one of the country’s busiest lifeboat stations, based in Gravesend

PUBLISHED: 13:39 03 April 2017 | UPDATED: 13:39 03 April 2017

The RNLI's Atlantic 85 class lifeboat sits on the water at its Gravesend station

The RNLI's Atlantic 85 class lifeboat sits on the water at its Gravesend station

Archant

Gravesend RNLI turns 15 this year

In 2002, two portacabins filled with brave volunteers and staff sat on Gravesend’s riverside, ready to get a call from the coastguard.

Now, 15 years later, the RNLI lifeboat station at Royal Terrace Pier may have changed shape, but the lifeboat crew’s job remains just as important.

One of the country’s busiest lifeboat stations, Gravesend’s lifeboat crew looks after 26 miles of water, from the Thames Flood Barrier in Woolwich down to Canvey Island.

Since first launch, the crew has been called out nearly 1,500 times, rescuing 797 people and saving 69 lives on the way.

Jason Carroll has been with the station since the start, and is expecting their job to become even more important as Ebbsfleet Garden City and London Paramount Resort bring more people to the riverside.

But as pressure mounts on the emergency service, the station manager urged people to report any concerns they might have.

He said: “If people think they’ve seen something in the water, they need to dial 999, and ask for the coastguard.

“We’d rather get five hundred call-outs to a false alarm with good intent than turn up and someone has drowned, all because somebody didn’t want to be a nuisance.

“It could be that member of the public sees someone take their last breath before going underwater, but they’ll think it was a bit of debris or a stick.

“Just dial 999, and ask for the coastguard, that way we can turn up and decide.

“It’s important people ask for the coastguard, and not the police or the ambulance.

“We had an incident where Kent Police called us two hours after the initial phone call, by then there’s pretty much nothing we can do, if you think about tidal speed something could happen in Gravesend, in two hours they could be at Cliffe or right up near the QEII bridge so the quicker we’re notified the quicker we can get to those in need.”

Separate from the government-funded coastguard, 95 per cent of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s funding comes from donations.

It costs £1,800 a year to train each volunteer crew member, and the station’s £214,000 Atlantic 85-class lifeboat, the Olive Laura Deare II, was funded, like it’s predecessor, via a generous legacy left by its namesake.

The station’s original lifeboat which operated from 2002 to 2008 is now available to see at Chatham’s Historic Dockyard.

But in Gravesend, the station remains tucked away on Royal Terrace Pier, hidden without any signage, on the Port of London Authority site.

Inside, the station has sleeping and washing facilities for volunteers serving their 12-hour shifts, along with a workshop to maintain kit, an office, and storage for the crews’ equipment.

To Mr Carroll, visibility is the next step in the station’s future.

He said: “When we started we had two portacabins and a telephone, we’ve built this station up a lot since then and we got this facility eight or nine years ago.

“But there’s no signage, so people don’t know we’re here, I’d like a future station to be open for the community to just come and walk in.

“It would help us deliver our key community messages, and I’d like to make it open for other emergency services as well.

“We do as much as we can, we’re not very visual in our location, so we rely on social media and our website, and we like to get out and do community events.”

To donate to the RNLI, visit www.gravesendrnli.org.

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