Eleven long-service awards have been handed out at the Aberdeen RNLI station in recognition of at least two decades of volunteering at the service.
The RNLI, which was founded in 1824, recognises long-standing and time served volunteers every year. Each receiving a medal and letter of recognition for their support.
But it’s clear the volunteers aren’t doing it for a medal, and for many in the service being an RNLI volunteer is something which shapes the course of their lives.
When he signed up at the turn of the new millennium, Jim Wilson had no idea just how much the service would turn his life upside down.
‘I had to learn to walk again’
“I had a serious accident aboard a lifeboat in 2011,” said the 62-year-old Aberdonian.
“I was smashed off the side of the deck in a storm and shattered my pelvis in nine places.
“That meant a double hip replacement. I also had a broken nose and technically died twice.
“I had to learn to walk again.”
Following his lengthy recovery, Jim was forced to give up his painting and decorating business.
“I was learning to walk – I couldn’t very well be climbing ladders!” he joked.
But when he was well enough, Jim was keen to resume his deckhand position on the lifeboats. Unfortunately, his injuries prevented him from returning to the sea.
Instead, the RNLI offered him a land-based role and Jim has spent the last decade as a DLA – deputy launching authority.
This position is the first point of contact when there is an incident at sea, and Jim is the one who sets off the crew’s pagers to alert them to get down to the station as soon as possible.
Despite his injuries and the loss of his company, it never crossed Jim’s mind to give up his volunteering role.
“If anything, it’s made me appreciate life a hell of a lot more than I would have,” he said.
“To go out on shouts (call-outs) like that and save people…. It really makes you feel good.
“Especially when you get a casualty out the water and you get a ‘thank you’ back, that’s really all we need.
“It’s very, very rewarding.”
Jim’s RNLI colleague Michael Cowlam echoes this sentiment and has reflected back on his own 20 years in the Aberdeen crew with fond memories.
“I really don’t feel old enough to have been volunteering here for 20 years,” said the 40-year-old.
“Like anything I guess, they say time flies when you’re having fun.”
Michael, a technical director at a marine consultancy, first signed up in February 2001 after moving to Aberdeen for university.
“I grew up in the far north of Scotland, in Thurso, and was on and off fishing boats all the time as a kid,” he said.
“I knew a few of the lifeboat crew up there but I didn’t live close enough to the base to join.
“Then when I left and came to Aberdeen to study in 1999, I found I really missed being out on the water.
“Joining the RNLI gave me an excuse to do that again.”
‘Jobs with fatalities are always hard’
But joining the service turned out to be far more than just a teenage whim for Michael, and over the years he has worked his way up to be second coxswain.
“A lot of our rescues are quite routine,” he said, “but there are a few which stand out.
“Helicopters ditching are a big one, or jobs in particularly bad weather with gale-force conditions. And jobs with fatalities are always hard.
“Usually your mind is just on the job and the adrenaline gets you through.
“It’s not until a few days later that you start to think about it.”
Alongside Michael and Jim, their RNLI colleagues Mark Grey, Matthew Foster and Howard Drysdale are also receiving medals for 20 years of service. Andy Watson is receiving his 40 years award.
Furthermore, Margaret Buchan, Audrey Masson, Louise Reid, Dennis Williams and John Shewell are receiving 20 years long service awards for their time with the RNLI Aberdeen and District Lifeboat Fundraising branch.
‘It’s truly an honour to congratulate each person’
Bill Deans, lifeboat operations manager at Aberdeen, said: “Without volunteers, the RNLI wouldn’t exist and the lifesaving work we do wouldn’t be possible. It is truly an honour to congratulate each person – whether our crew or fundraising groups – who received this award.”
Earlier this year Aberdeen RNLI and Peterhead RNLI lifeboat crews received a special commendation for their joint efforts on a long and arduous shout, lasting over 18 hours, back in October 2019.