ID: RNLI_HIS / Martin Wade.

TitleHow the Lifeboat Started
AbstractA short history of the lifeboat at West Mersea to go with its 50th anniversary in 2013.

The RNLI lifeboat service in Mersea was formed in 1963 and so is 50 years old this year. We were one of the first stations to use inflatable 'D Class' lifeboats, making the Inshore Lifeboat service or 'ILB' 50 years old as well. Previous to this all lifeboats were of the large displacement 'All Weather' type, most with a maximum speed of 9 knots.

Our story in Mersea started in 1960/61 when Diggle Haward, a well-known local yachtsman and former Commodore of the Wivenhoe and the Dabchicks Sailing Clubs, decided that owing to the increasing number of pleasure boats on the Blackwater Estuary, "something should be done about it". Diggle called a meeting of local people with an idea of starting a Mersea Rescue Service. There were several boats involved among them MAGIA (F. M. Haward), the Dabchicks Sailing Club Rescue Launch and the West Mersea Yacht Club Launch. There were no radios and for two years the service operated on a very amateur but extremely keen and successful basis in close liaison with the police, who actually called them out for assistance.

In 1962 Diggle Haward approached the R.N.L.I. with a suggestion of having an RNLI Inshore Rescue Boat stationed at Mersea. A member of the H.Q. Operational and Technical staff of the R.N.L.I. came and brought a demonstration 16ft 'D' type inflatable inshore rescue boat for everybody to have a look at. There was a report back to H.Q. and Diggle was asked to form a Station Committee for the establishment of an Inshore Rescue Boat (IRB) Station of the R.N.L.I. at West Mersea, which would be operational during daylight hours only and during the summer months from approximately lst April to 30th October. This was indeed progress and Diggle Haward himself became the first Hon. Sec. of the Station Committee, the Chairman being Mr. B. Rainbird.

West Mersea's lifeboat DIGNITY will be 13 years old next year and is due to be replaced by the slightly larger Atlantic 85 which carries one more crew member and extra equipment, including radar and VHF direction finding. Local fund raising towards the £200,000 needed to build this boat is well under way and will continue throughout this year.

During Mersea lifeboat's history since 1963, more than 150 lives have been saved and by 2013 the crew had completed more than 1600 service launches, making this station one of the busiest in the British Isles.

AuthorMartin Wade.
SourceMersea Museum / Martin Wade