Giving thanks for the men and women of the RNLI

This month the Royal National Life Institution is celebrating its 200th anniversary. Over the history of the RNLI a total of more than 144,000 people have been saved, including 389 in 2022. Almost all the operational crew members are volunteers who are ready to put their lives at risk in order to save lives at sea. The RNLI now has a fleet of more than 400 boats stationed around the coast of Great Britain and Ireland, including all-weather lifeboats and inshore rescue boats. The sight of a brightly coloured lifeboat speeding to their rescue, in all conditions, has brought hope to many in danger on the sea.

The RNLI Memorial Books commemorate the 438 people who have died on lifeboat service since 1824. On 19 December 1981 the MV Union Star, a mini-bulk carrier, got into difficulty in heavy seas off the coast of Cornwall. The RNLI lifeboat Solomon Browne, based at Penlee Lifeboat Station, went to the aid of the 5 crew members and captain’s wife and 2 teenage stepdaughters. The powerless ship was being blown on to rocks by hurricane force winds gusting at speeds up to 100mph and was being battered by waves up to 60ft high.

After it had made several attempts to get alongside, four people jumped across to the lifeboat. It reported: “we got four … off … male and female. There are two left on board.” This was the last report received from either vessel. Ten minutes later, the lifeboat’s lights disappeared. Sixteen people perished, including the 8 crew members of the Solomon Browne, who died trying to save people they had never met. Within a day of the disaster enough local people had volunteered to form a new lifeboat crew.

The pilot of a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter, which was assisting the rescue, reported: “The greatest act of courage that I have ever seen, and am ever likely to see, was the penultimate courage and dedication shown by the crew of the Penlee lifeboat when it manoeuvred back alongside the casualty in over 60ft breakers and rescued four people shortly after the Penlee had been bashed on top of the casualty’s hatch covers. They were truly the bravest eight men I’ve ever seen, who were totally dedicated to upholding the highest standards of the RNLI.”

The sacrifice offered by the crew of the Solomon Browne reminds us of the sacrifice the Lord Jesus Christ made in performing the greatest rescue ever. The Bible tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Love always gives of itself. Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

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