Lifeboat chiefs look to replace maroons

RICHARD BATSON The whoosh and boom of a soaring maroon has been a timeless signal of lifeboat launches. When local people and trippers hear the dull thud of the flare in the sky they know a valiant crew is about to set off on a life-saving mission.

RICHARD BATSON

The whoosh and boom of a soaring maroon has been a timeless signal of lifeboat launches.

When local people and trippers hear the dull thud of the flare in the sky they know a valiant crew is about to set off on a life-saving mission.

But around the country's shorelines most lifeboats will launch in silence this summer, because of a safety clampdown by the RNLI headquarters.

In the meantime, lifeboat chiefs are looking at other, less dangerous, ways of flagging up launches to the public without using giant fireworks and it could result in the use of farm-style bird scarers.

Two deaths, injuries ranging from burst ear drums to leg wounds, and property damage led to the RNLI's new instructions which mean maroons should not be used for alerting crews, training, ceremonial or publicity purposes.

Most Read

One local tragedy happened at Caister in September 1991 when Benny Read was hit and killed by a mortar-style maroon as he set it off on the beach next to the independently-run station.

The new RNLI edict says they should only be fired as a back-up if the electronic pagers fail, or if it lets a nearby casualty know that help is on the way.

Maroons once summoned the crew, as well as alerted the town, to a launch - but have been replaced by modern telecommunications gadgetry.

But at Cromer, station officials, want to keep using them, explained operations manager Richard Leeds.

"There are practical reasons, such as alerting the town that lifeboatmen will be hurrying to a launch.

"But there are also public relations reasons. People like to know when the boat is launched. And a maroon always brings people down to the station to have a look - buy souvenirs and make donations in the shops."

After a visit by officials, the station was given the go-ahead to keep firing - because of its safe location at the end of a pier and away from potential public danger.

Crewmen firing the £60-a-go flares must wear safety gloves and a helmet, and aim it offshore - using a launcher bolted to the pier railings.

Lifeboat mechanic Paul Watling is one of the men charged with maroon duties - which involve putting the yellow flares in the launcher, removing a red safety pin and pulling a silver trigger. The flare then launches 300m into the air before exploding.

The changes mean that the launching of flares to signal the launch of the inshore lifeboat on the promenade will have to stop.

An RNLI spokeswoman said it was a life-saving organisation and would be failing in its duty of care to volunteers and the public if it did not consider their safety.

Cromer's "unique location and situation" meant it could continue firing maroons, but only during the daytime for the offshore boat.

The new system being trialled was like a farmer's bird-scaring gas gun, and produced two loud bangs.