Letter: Charity lifeboats

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Letter: Charity lifeboats

Sir: David Walker's attack on the RNLI in his discussion of the role of charities is ill-considered (Comment, 4 May).

That the operation of a maritime rescue service is a government responsibility is quite correct. The Navy and RAF provide rescue helicopters, and naval vessels will respond to any distress call within range. Nevertheless, the provision of the main seaborne rescue service by the RNLI means that the service is free from political interference, and allows a consistent and co-ordinated rescue service.

With the best will in the world, it is unlikely that the service would be so well equipped if it had to compete for funds with front-line warships, especially in years of repeated defence cutbacks. Think of the dismay with which mariners greeted the closing of smaller Coast Guard stations, and how little notice the Government took of them.

The RNLI is not "fat". A fast deep-water lifeboat costs well over pounds 1m and even with volunteer crews costs a great deal to maintain and operate. These boats cannot be bought off the shelf; the RNLI has to design them, and this takes a lot of time and money, which must be predictably available over periods of years.

The charitable status of the RNLI does commit the Government to some funding of its responsibilities in this area. The voluntary nature of the majority of its revenue means that the service is paid for by those who use it or sympathise with them, and so causes no resentment among inland communities who think they have no connection with the sea.

Why take it under government control when it works better as it is? Why forbid people to organise themselves to help one another and force them to instead rely on a remote and distracted government?


Cheltenham, Gloucestershire