The Burnham Lifeboat assisting an Atlantic rower in training, 10th September 2018. © 2018 Nick Skeens

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has had lifeboats based in Burnham since 1966, when a D Class lifeboat operated in the sailing season. It became a 24/7 operation in 1987.

Based at the Marina, the RNLI now has two lifeboat houses – one for the larger Atlantic 75 and the smaller for the D Class Inshore Lifeboat (ILB).

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History of the Burnham Lifeboat – 1966 to today

The RNLI Inshore Lifeboat Station at Burnham-on-Crouch was founded in 1966 as a result of Bob and Sonny Cole contacting the RNLI.

As members of the coastal watch team of the time the coastguard was requesting their assistance in the river and beyond, these became more frequent and dangerous. It was agreed to send an RNLI boat.

In March 1966 Sir Geoffrey Worthington was appointed Honorary Secretary of the new station. It was initially only operational during the sailing season and in 1968 the station was due to have closed but in view of the withdrawal of helicopters from Manston, this decision was rescinded and it eventually became an all year station in 1987.

Originally the D Class inflatable was housed in a temporary wooden building next to the Petticrow Boatyard’s old sheds in Belvedere Rd.

In 1989 the RNLI built a new boathouse on the corner of the carpark of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club were the D Class was housed until 2002.

A review of the type and frequency of services of lifeboats on the East Coast showed that since 1989 the 16-foot D Class was being tasked to assist boats in trouble in the approaches of the river (beyond Shore Ends) more and more frequently and also that some 55 – 60% of ‘shouts’ were taking place after dark.

As a result, it was decided that, subject to finding a suitable site, an Atlantic 75 lifeboat should be stationed in Burnham from 1996. The sea wall was too much of an obstruction to get the boat in the water so a berth for a floating boathouse was purchased at the newly-opened Marina. The D Class was to be kept on for a period while a decision was made as to its longer-term future.

In August 1996, a floating boathouse for the Atlantic 75 was installed at the Yacht Harbour while changing rooms, stores and a training facility were built in the form of a new station house designed by local architect John James, who was a Deputy Launch Authority (DLA) having previously served on the crew for 12 years.

Prior to the arrival of the new boat, potential helmsmen were put through an intensive training course on station and at the inshore Lifeboat Centre at Cowes which was where the RNLI assembled and maintained their inshore boats at that time.  David Nicholls, the longest serving crew member was appointed Station Mechanic and he attended a course to learn how to look after the boat and its equipment.

Just before Burnham week in 1996, the prototype Atlantic 75 B700 Susan Peacock arrived to take up duty until a newly built boat was delivered.  Susan Peacock was on the water all day every day in September while the crew worked up under the watchful eyes of two staff instructors from Cowes and a Deputy Divisional Inspector (East Coast), who signed the boat off as operational on October 1st.

In February 1997 the brand new Atlantic 75 B733 named Brandy Hole, which had been partially funded by the Brandy Hole Yacht Club at Hullbridge, whose 550 members raised a substantial proportion of the £61,500 arrived at Burnham and Susan Peacock was returned to the reserve fleet.

A high percentage of services involved both the Atlantic and the D Class. Either the D Class is launched to a shout within the river while the Atlantic gives assistance to a casualty well outside or both boats work together to reduce the time spent searching for a vessel reported overdue.

Boat owner’s families and friends can often give surprisingly vague descriptions of a missing boat, which means that the identity of virtually every boat on the river has to be checked. It was therefore decided that Burnham needs to operate two boats for the foreseeable future.

In May 1997, with the D Class D335 reaching the end of its operational life, a new D Class D519 Ernest and Rose Chapman was delivered to Burnham. This boat was given by David and Barbara Chapman in memory of David’s parents.

Both Burnham lifeboats, Brandy Hole and Ernest and Rose Chapman were dedicated on 7th June 1997 and the new boathouse facility at Burnham Yacht Harbour was formally opened at the same ceremony.  The ceremony went smoothly and the both boats were craned into the water however whilst the crews were enjoying an evening barbeque both boats were called out to help a yacht which had sailed over Bridgemarsh Island at high tide and later become trapped.

In 2002 a new floating boathouse to house the D Class lifeboat was constructed at a cost of £73,364 and it now resides next to the original one in the Yacht Harbour. This greatly improved the response time for the D Class.

In 2005, former Local Operations Manager (LOM) Tony Glaze (deceased) was honoured by Her Majesty the Queen in the Birthday Honours for services to the institution; Member, Order of the British Empire (MBE)

In 2007 a new D Class D672 Ernest and Rose Chapman II was generously donated to the station, once again by David and Barbara Chapman, to replace D519 which had reached the end of its operational life after 10 years’ service. The new D Class was formally given to the RNLI by the donors at a special naming ceremony at the lifeboat station in the Yacht Harbour on 9 June 2007.

2009 was the busiest 12 months in a decade in Essex. The stations at Walton, Harwich, Frinton, Clacton, Southend and Burnham-on-Crouch launched on 497 occasions rescuing 424 people. Burnham was the 17th busiest station nationally out of 235 stations.

When the Atlantic 75 B733 Brandy Hole was due to be replaced after 14 years’ service at Burnham-on-Crouch Lifeboat station by the new Atlantic 85, it was noted that the dimensions of the Atlantic 85 were larger than the Atlantic 75. The new boat would not fit in the existing floating boathouse.  The cost of the new boathouse was £300,000 and it had been hoped that this would be met through a legacy donation but due to financial situation the legacy did not realise as much as had been hoped so in June 2009 we were given permission to run an appeal to raise funds for the balance of £130,000.

In August 2011, the new Atlantic 85 B849 was delivered to Burnham.  The boat was donated by Mrs Patricia Britt a long-time supporter of the RNLI at Beckenham, Kent  and was named Tony and Robert Britt, after her two sons, one of whom Tony was tragically killed in Australia aged 30.

Mrs Britt named B849 on Saturday 15th October 2011 in the presence of her family and many local dignitaries and supporters. At the ceremony the Branch Treasurer was able to announce that he had received a donation which had resulted in the floating boathouse appeal reaching its target.

The boathouse appeal firmly cemented the RNLI links with the whole Burnham community.

During 50 years on the river Crouch the RNLI has been involved in a variety of “shouts” not just for the boating community and on average is tasked 3 to 4 times a year to help locate missing persons.

But people are not the only rescues; in 1977 a cow called Buttercup was found in the river and saved and more recently in March 2009 a flock of sheep had to be rescued after getting stranded on marshes in Clements Green Creek in the rising tide.  There were 29 sheep which included pregnant ewes. It is believed the sheep had broken down a fence and jumped over the sea wall into the creek to get away from two dogs. Burnham Lifeboat attended along with the coastguard, marine police and Fambridge yacht harbour to manoeuvre the sheep to safety.

In March 2017, Ernest and Rose Chapman II was replaced by the third D Class lifeboat donated to the RNLI by David and Barbara Chapman. It was named David and Barbara Chapman in a ceremony in June 2017.