The lifesaving charity has upgraded its launching equipment at Weston to speed the time it takes to get to those in trouble at sea.
Weston-super-Mare, one the top most popular seaside tourist resorts, has several famous attributes. Perhaps the most unpleasant of these is MUD! This mud is visible whenever the tide goes out and can stretch for well over a mile at low tide. Not pleasant for those who want to paddle with their feet or enjoy the usual water sports. It is also a problem for the extremely busy RNLI lifeboat station. For half of the 12 hr tide there is plenty of water both for the bathers and to launch the lifeboat. However, at low water the volunteers have to take their lifeboat around the Marine Lake and launch over rocks in order to launch into deeper water near their old haunt of Birnbeck Island. This can take several minutes, vital if someone is drowning out at sea.
The reason for this long detour to get to the sea is that the mud, stretching out as far as the eye can see does not support the weight of normal towing vehicles used by the RNLI. The solution is the Helgeth-Hagglund BV206. This tracked vehicle with a tracked, powered carriage, on which the lifeboat sits, was originally developed for the Swedish Army. Since then it has been used by the British Army amongst many other military forces. There are 11,000 in use in 30 counties around the world.
It has a new Mercedes 2700cc CDI engine and is capable of 40 mph if conditions allow. The total cost is approximately £160k. It is due to its lighter footprint on the ground and the powered carriage that it can travel over the mud. It is so light that its footprint (1.8psi) is less than a quarter of a human being. (8psi)
It allows our crews to leave Knightstone Harbour and go straight over the mud to the sea at nearly all states of the tide. It will thus save several minutes getting the lifeboat afloat. Vital if you are the one in sea nearly drowning. The RNLI has had one previous unit which was introduced in 2013 at West Kirkby where they also have a lot of mud to deal with. It may be that more of these all terrain carriers will be introduced by the RNLI in other parts of the UK and Ireland if it is successful in Weston.
It was put through its paces under the watchful eyes of the RNLI divisional Operations Manager, Paul Eastment, and handed over to Charlotte Conroy, Lifeboat Operations Manager at Weston.
Richard Spindler, Deputy Launching Authority said; ‘This vehicle will save lives due to the increased speed we can get to the water. It also offers more protection for the crew.’
Comment by Head Launcher, Lester Solway ‘A vast improvement of the previous launch vehicle. It moves across the ground much quicker. Gives us a lot more options on where we can launch the lifeboat.’