BRAVING perilous conditions at sea, they regularly risk their own lives to save others.
Every year, Sunderland RNLI is rated as one of the busiest stations in the country, with volunteers called out to dozens of incidents, at any time of the day or night.
In 2010, local lifeboat volunteers were called into action a total of 101 times.
So far this year, they have been scrambled on more than 50 occasions.
Yet without the charity’s army of devoted fund-raisers, it would be unable to continue its round-the-clock vital work.
To remain at the top of the game, it has to continually raise money for crucial training, in addition to covering running costs and other overheads.
And following the launch of its latest summer charity drive, generous Wearsiders dug deep in recognition of the lifesavers’ courage and dedication.
The charity held a major city-centre collection as part of its national Flag Day drive.
Crews, lifeguards and guild members gathered at Sunderland Civic Centre for a special launch event with Mayor Norma Wright, who gave her backing to the annual week-long fund-raiser.
“I was delighted to add civic support to the annual fund-raising appeal by buying the first flag,” she said. She urged others to support the RNLI with donations throughout the year.
Coun Wright added: “The lifeboat station in Sunderland is the oldest in the country, which has been helping people for more than 200 years, and we hope that everyone will support them to continue this proud tradition.
“The work of the volunteer lifeboat crews around our coastline and rivers can never be underestimated, and we should all thank these brave, selfless people for their invaluable contribution to life here in Sunderland over many generations.” Last year, local Flag Day events raised thousands of pounds for the RNLI.
Paul Nicholson, senior helmsman at Sunderland RNLI, said: “As a charity, we rely heavily on fund-raising collections like this to raise the funds we need to operate as a maritime emergency service.
“Each year, it costs us approximately £7,000 to provide fuel for our two inshore lifeboats, so we are very grateful to the public for their continued generosity.”
Elsewhere, Northumbrian Water is helping save lives at sea – and in the workplace.
The firm has been honoured for donating tens of thousands of pounds to the RNLI as part of a drive to raise its own health and safety standards.
The company was named regional winner in the corporate category of the charity’s supporter awards for 2011.
“It is a very prestigious award and we are very happy to have won,” said spokesman Jeff Graham.
Northumbrian Water has been supporting the RNLI since 2004 as part of a scheme which rewards its staff for good health and safety performance.
“We have a scheme called the Care for Safety Challenge,” said Jeff.
The firm makes donations to charities chosen by its own workers when its health and safety policies are successfully applied.
“Every time we have good health and safety performance, the business donates funds to charity,” said Jeff. “The charities are chosen by the health and safety committee and in 2004, the decision was taken to support the Sunderland branch of the RNLI.
“Since then we have raised about £45,000.”
The RNLI’s Sunderland branch is just one of seven North East charities supported under the scheme.