Making training plain sailing!

The Echo's Launch a Lifesaver campaign aims to help the RNLI continue its vital work by raising £10,000 to put seven volunteers at the Sunderland station through 12 months of operational training.

Ordinary people doing an extraordinary job.

Every day, lifeboat crews across the country show selflessness, skill and bravery to help save lives at sea.

Volunteers with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution come from all walks of life, responding at a moment's notice, no matter where they are or what they are doing, when the call to action comes.

The RNLI in Sunderland has a history rich with stories of crew members showing extraordinary courage and determination. Since it was introduced to Wearside in the nineteenth century, the service has been awarded dozens of medals and honours.

Today, crews in Sunderland are regularly called away from their families, beds and work, on call 24-hours-a-day, 365 days a year.

Often they will leave a place of comfort to brave freezing temperatures and hazardous waters to attend emergency incidents that test their skill and strength.

Their lifesaving work is essential and often dangerous.

Helmsman Martin Andrew, 48, joined the RNLI in 1997: "It can be demanding and we can be called to work in very challenging conditions, but it's always worth it. It's an opportunity to put something back into society as well as a chance for me to learn new skills.

"It also provides excellent training, great friendships and a chance to learn something about yourself that you would perhaps not be able to do in normal everyday life."

But the commitment of crew members is not only measured in the time spent involved in rescues.

Increasingly, new equipment and faster boats also means that regular training programmes account for much of the time. This includes boat handling, radio communications, first aid, navigation and radar training.

Duncan Gomes is a helmsman at the Sunderland station. "Not wanting to sound corny, but I feel a satisfaction that I never used to feel, brought about by doing something worthwhile," said the 44-year-old, who joined the RNLI in 2003.

"I really wanted to do something to serve my community and to be part of something. But I've also had my exciting moments. I feel I did very well playing a big part in the Jan Denise fishing boat search, especially my nav, under very difficult circumstances.

"I've completed the IIb induction, B-class helms, D-class helms, all at college. One of my proudest achievements was making helm in my first year.

"I've also done mobile training, unit-radar, first aid. There's probably too much to list. The training is going on all the time because you need to stay up to date with new equipment and techniques."

Yet despite the potential risks and the major commitments, dedicated volunteers continue to sign up for the RNLI.

Keith Brown, 28, joined last year and is undergoing his initial training.

"I've always had a lot of respect for the RNLI and the fact that the majority of the staff are unpaid volunteers. As a pleasure boater and fisherman myself, I wanted to be part of a great organisation and give something back to the local community," he said.

"The training on offer is second to none, the friendships you make, the experiences and the thrill of the ride.

"As a probationer, my main achievement to date is being accepted by the crew and given the chance to prove that in time I can become a valued member of the lifeboat crew."

For more information about the RNLI, visit www.rnli.org.uk or email volunteering@rnli.org.uk.

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