Launch a Lifesaver appeal + VIDEO

The Echo is trying to raise £10,000 to put seven RNLI volunteers through 12 months' operational training. We found out how you can help shape a hero.

Twenty-four hours a day, lifeboat volunteers are ready to save lives at sea.

Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) members readily exchange leisure, comfort and sleep for cold, wet and fatigue.

Volunteers come from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common – they selflessly make time in their own lives to save others.

And within minutes of the alarm being raised, the crews leave their jobs or homes have to dash to the lifeboat station.

Every year, the RNLI on Wearside is called to dozens of incidents, with Sunderland the busiest lifeboat station on the east coast in 2008.

But for volunteers to remain at the top of their game, the charity has to continually raise funds for vital lifesaving training.

And to help the charity continue its crucial work, the Echo is launching the Launch a Lifesaver drive to raise 10,000 to put seven volunteers at the Sunderland station through 12 months of operational training.

Senior helmsman Paul Nicholson, a volunteer at the Wearside station, said: "Everyone at the lifeboat station is extremely excited by the start of this fantastic appeal, which is being hosted by the Echo.

"We hope that the paper's readers will support this appeal, which will provide vital funds to both train new RNLI volunteers and refresh the skills of experienced volunteers."

The RNLI is independent from Government and continues to rely on voluntary contributions and legacies for its income.

Nationally, it cost about 123.8million to run the RNLI – about 339,000 per day, in 2007.

For every 1 spent, about 85p went to operations and 15p to generating voluntary income.

Any surplus is used to guarantee the RNLI's boat-building programme and other projects.

In the coming weeks, the Echo will be publicising a series of fundraising events and urging people to donate to the Launch a Lifesaver fund.

Martin Andrew is the longest current serving crewmember at the Sunderland lifeboat station.

"The training of our volunteers is a vital part of the jigsaw for saving lives at sea, as one in 10 volunteers join the RNLI with no professional maritime experience," said the 48-year-old, who joined the RNLI in 1997.

"To provide our volunteers with the many skills required requires many hours of training, which all costs money.

"On average, it costs the RNLI 1,000 per year to training one lifeboat volunteer, and all of this needs to be raised by appeals such as the one being started today."

The RNLI runs its modern lifesaving service as a fully integrated operation, saving lives from the beach to the open sea.

Whether rescuing an offshore fisherman or a child swept out to sea, the charity exists to "put life first".

Bryn Hanson, from Fulwell, has seen first hand the charity's important work.

The 40-year-old was rescued by the RNLI six years ago when he was windsurfing off Seaburn. His equipment failed in a strong westerly wind and he was very quickly being blown offshore.He scrambled into one of the boats, which was moored at Whitburn, and was picked up by the Sunderland's D-Class lifeboat."They do a great job – and I can say that from personal experience," said Bryn.

"But people often forget what they do, the dangers they face at sea, and I think we should give them as much support as we can. Hopefully, this campaign will help them to carry out their work and provide the training that will help save lives."

Next month, Bryn will say a big thank-you to lifeboat volunteers who rescued him by taking on one of the toughest ironman competitions in the world.

The gruelling event will take place in Lanzarote, on May 23, when Bryn will have to endure a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26-mile marathon run in the heat of the holiday island.

Lifeboat volunteers based at Sunderland RNLI, along with the Fire Brigade Benevolent Fund, will benefit from the sponsorship money.

Bryn, a crew manager based at Fulwell fire station who has worked for the brigade for 19 years, added: "As a fireman, I understand the dangers of emergency work.

"But these people are volunteers. They could be called away at a moment's notice and have to drop everything when a call comes in. They are fantastic."

* If you would like to donate, send cheques to Launch a Lifesaver, c/o James Johnston, Sunderland Echo, Echo House, Pennywell, Sunderland SR4 9ER, or call 0191-501 7264, email james.johnston@northeast-press.co.uk.