Every Sunday morning ‘Spirit of the Dart’ is launched and two crews will go through a training session. Training for the unknown!
Whenever the pagers go off to summon the crew no one knows what they are running to. So how do we train?
Each shout will have a different scenario. The weather conditions will be different. Who or what will we assist? Will it be a single person or a large vessel? Will we be going up river or out to sea?
When the ILB goes out it could have a combination of any three crew from twenty volunteers. If all the crew members are to work as a close team, they each need to know what to do and how to execute every procedure.
On a typical training exercise we may practice ‘search patterns’. This procedure involves covering an area in an exact pattern, ensuring that the whole area is covered without missing any spots. This could be a ‘Sector search’ or an ‘Expanding Square search’ depending on what the job is.
An expanding square search is used when we need to quickly cover a large area. On arrival at the expected position of the casualty, we will firstly set off in the likely direction of drift due to wind or tide. The ILB will then make several 90 degree turns, increasing the size of the box being searched and moving outward from the original position.
A Sector search is when we have an accurate position of the last known place of the casualty. This may be physical debris or an upturned vessel. This position is known as the datum. Again we will set off in the likely direction of drift, but this time the ILB will turn through a 120 degrees creating a triangular pattern. Each triangle will touch at the original datum position. After this is executed three times, it covers a pattern that looks like a propeller. If nothing is found the process is repeated, but this time the direction of travel will be shifted by 30 degrees, hence filling the gaps of the propeller pattern. This search pattern is very accurate and thorough.
Each search pattern is very different, and is used in different circumstances. The decision on which to use is at the discretion of the helm, but the coastguard may also request a pattern. Whichever pattern is used it must be well practiced!
Each crewman has an important role and each role is dependent on the others. One will dictate the bearing and time of each leg whilst recording the area covered. Another will be the time keeper with the stop watch, while last but not least the third will drive the boat at a constant speed on the bearing and for the time set by the others. While the crew are concentrating on their relevant tasks, each has to keep a keen lookout as this is the ultimate aim of a ‘search’!
Other procedures that have to be practised are towing, underway transfers, pilotage, navigation and anchor and veering.
Anchor and veering is a technique used to approach rocks in severe conditions. The theory is to anchor off , away from the rocks and go astern with ¾ throttle, gradually paying out the anchor line until the ILB is close to the rocks. Then the helm will be turned so as to ‘veer’ at an angle so the boat swings on a pendulum effect closer to the rocks. It is a controlled and exacting procedure which needs to be regularly practiced.
Another very important part of the lifeboat service is in administering ‘First Aid’. The RNLI has its own medical training team that cover the country, keeping crews up to date with first aid applicable on the water. This year at Dartmouth most of the crew attended a full training course, lasting twenty hours over nine evenings. A large commitment made by all.
A D-Class ILB may be a small boat, but it carries a lot of equipment. For everything to fit, it needs its own particular storage. Training and using this equipment regularly familiarises the crew with where everything is.
When it is raining in the middle of the night and the ILB is bouncing unpredictably there is no time to rummage around pulling out unwanted kit to find what is needed for the job!
Training can be repetitive but never boring. Each training session is different and every crew member gains that bit more in experience and bonds with the others to make a closer more efficient team. You can never train “too much” as no one knows what the next shout may be!