PORTISHEAD is one of the youngest lifeboat stations in the RNLI, having operated as an independent lifeboat station for 20 years before joining the RNLI in 2015, where it now houses a B-Class inshore lifeboat.

Since 2015 its volunteer lifeboat crew have launched 291 times and saved 11 lives.

Before joining the RNLI, the Portishead Lifeboat trust had operated a lifeboat service from 1996.

This stemmed from a rescue service previously provided by the Portishead Yacht and Sailing club since 1970.

The construction of a new boathouse in 2014 marked the culmination of several years of consultation and negotiation leading to the RNLI’s adoption of the independent lifeboat service run by the PLT.

The PLT operated out of facilities at the local sailing club at Sugar Loaf Bay.

Founded in a London tavern on 4 March 1824 following an appeal from Sir William Hillary, who lived on the Isle of Man and witnessed many shipwrecks, the RNLI has continued saving lives at sea throughout the tests of its history, including tragic disasters, funding challenges and two World Wars.  

In total, across the UK and Ireland, 146,452 lives have been saved by the RNLI – this equates to an average of two lives saved every day for 200 years.

The charity has a strong presence in the South West with 33 lifeboat stations and 89 lifeguarded beaches during the summer season.

Lifesavers in the South West have witnessed some of the greatest moments of triumph in the charity’s history including the largest rescue in RNLI history of the liner the Suevic which ran aground off the coast of Cornwall in 1907 in which 456 lives were saved and not a single life lost.

Cornwall also saw the first RNLI gallantry medal for lifeguarding when in 2003, Rod MacDonald was presented with the bravery award for a particularly challenging and selfless rescue of a bodyboarder in Newquay.

Portishead RNLI were also featured on both BBC and ITV news channels on the Monday 4 March 2024 to celebrate 200 years of the RNLI.

In September 2023, Portishead also celebrated a significant milestone in its history by appointing its first female helm, Susan Beaton.

Speaking in March 2024, Susan said: “At every step of this journey I have pushed myself to meet the high standard the RNLI expects of its Helms, and throughout this process, I have been supported by the fantastic crew around me.

"It’s a privilege and an honour to be the first female Helm at the station.”

Susan Beaton, the first female helm at the Portishead RNLISusan Beaton, the first female helm at the Portishead RNLI (Image: RNLI)

Helen Lazenby, Lifeboat press officer, said: “I have been with the Portishead crew for 17 years, first as a fundraiser and now as Press Officer.

“It is great to see more women volunteering on the crew. We have always been here, just in different roles supporting what the crew do.

“Here in Portishead, we are lucky to have a number of women volunteering and supporting us to save lives at sea.

“We are now in our 200th year, which is very humbling, and we are hoping to inspire even more women to come and join us. We do plan to still be here in another 200 years.”

RNLI lifeguards began patrolling beaches in 2001 and since then lifeguards in the Suth West have responded to 176,585 incidents saving 1,061 lives.

The RNLI provide a lifeguard service on behalf of the Local Authority or private beach owners.

Whilst lifeguards are called upon to rescue people every season the majority of work they do is preventative and if people are heading to coast they ask people to follow the below advice:

• Visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags 

• Check the weather forecast, tide times and read local hazard signage to understand local risks 

• Keep a close eye on your family – on the beach and in the water – don’t allow your family to swim alone 

• If you fall into the water unexpectedly, FLOAT TO LIVE.
Fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back, extend your arms and legs, and float 

• In an emergency dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard Furthermore, RNLI lifeguards now work alongside the RNLI’s water safety team each year to deliver the ‘Meet the Lifeguards’ programme which involves lifeguards going into primary schools to deliver sessions on how to stay safe at the beach.

The sessions are 40 minutes and delivered by trained lifeguards, and children learn the importance of swimming at a lifeguarded beach, what the different flags mean, how to Float to Live if they get into trouble in the water, how to spot and escape a rip current and what to do in an emergency.  

This year was the biggest year of the programme with lifeguards going to over 450 schools across the South West and the Channel Islands.