Ilfracombe’s RNLI lifeboat volunteers are having one of their busiest years ever and would welcome some new faces to share the load.

The view from the Shannon class lifeboat as it is launched in Ilfrcaombe. Picture: Tony GussinThe view from the Shannon class lifeboat as it is launched in Ilfrcaombe. Picture: Tony Gussin

The combined shouts for the inshore lifeboat and the 'new' Shannon class all-weather lifeboat stand at more than 80 for 2019.

It is four-and-a-half years since the Shannon class lifeboat The Barry and Peggy High Foundation arrived in the town.

So to find out a bit more about the work of the volunteers, the Gazette joined them on a morning exercise.

The water jet powered Shannon has a top speed of 25 knots and is the latest model in the RNLI fleet, packed with up-to-date technology.

Launching Ilfracombe's Shannon class lifeboat at low tide. Picture: Tony GussinLaunching Ilfracombe's Shannon class lifeboat at low tide. Picture: Tony Gussin

Since it arrived in Ilfracombe in 2015 it has launched on 140 'shouts', 38 times already in 2019 and in 2018 alone, 23 people were assisted by the Shannon.

From 2015 to 2018, both boats assisted 184 people and saved 13 lives.

Volunteer coxswain Andrew Bengey has been on the boat crew for 41 years and 50 with the RNLI, first getting involved when he was just nine-years-old.

He said of the Shannon: "The main two things are its speed and manoeuvrability and it's also safer when we are trying to put crew on to casualty vessels or take their crew off.

Volunteer Ben Bengey at the helm of the Ilfracombe Shannon class lifeboat The Barry and Peggy High Foundation. Picture: Tony GussinVolunteer Ben Bengey at the helm of the Ilfracombe Shannon class lifeboat The Barry and Peggy High Foundation. Picture: Tony Gussin

"We had a couple this year, in particular kayakers in Combe Martin Bay, where we were able to lift them out of the water with the equipment on board.

"This year has been one of the busiest ever years with 80-plus shouts so far and more people are always welcome as there is a strain on the team, doing 80-plus shouts and 50-plus exercises every year."

The main criteria for RNLI volunteers are living and working in the town and being available, as well as having an understanding employer who is willing to release them if needed.

Everyone starts on the shore crew, with the possibility of going on to the inshore lifeboat in six months, with full training and support given.

Ilfracombe RNLI volunteers practising rope drills, Picture: Tony GussinIlfracombe RNLI volunteers practising rope drills, Picture: Tony Gussin

But there are roles for everyone, including as fundraisers or administrators, all help is welcome.

Nigel Fairchild is head launcher and drives the SLARS tractor unit that launches and recovers the Shannon.

He said: "If anyone is able and has an interest, it is really rewarding.

"If it's been a really good job you just get that buzz and that's satisfying.

Ilfracombe RNLI all-weather lifeboat The Barry and Peggy High Foundation. Picture: Neil PerrinIlfracombe RNLI all-weather lifeboat The Barry and Peggy High Foundation. Picture: Neil Perrin

"Just come down and see us, see what we do and have a chat with anyone here."