LIVES are saved on Loch Lomond, Scotland’s biggest and most popular inland loch, thanks to the efforts of a Luss-based group of stalwart and brave volunteers.
Throughout the years the Loch Lomond rescue boat has gone from strength to strength, thanks to grant assistance from the local council, and the goodwill of the public and local businesses.
The story began in 1975 when the idea was first mooted, and an anonymous donor gave £10,000 to provide a rescue service to cover the 27 square mile loch which has 38 islands.
This was put to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and they agreed to support the venture with £1,000 per year and have it operated under their umbrella.
A meeting was held in Luss to form a committee, and work began. In 1978 the first rescue boat arrived, and was named Luss Younger by HRH Prince Charles.
In due course the RSPA decided to back out, and the Loch Lomond Association took over as the parent body. But in the early 90s, when a new management committee was formed, with patrons, it was decided there should be a standalone committee for the sole purpose of running the rescue boat.
In 1992-3 the Luss boathouse was extended, and then the Fraser Trust provided a new boat at a cost of £25,000. It was named the Sir Hugh Fraser at a launching ceremony by Mrs Elma Mills, wife of Vale of Leven Councillor Duncan Mills. In 1995 there were 71 callouts.
The year 2000 saw the boathouse rebuilt, with the main funder being the Order of St John in Scotland.
Four years later a specification for a new boat — with the hull the same as those used by the RNLI and the Royal Marines — was drawn up by the crew members, with help from the RNLI, and lots of financial contributions were received.
Again the main contributor to the £105,000 cost was the Order of St John in Scotland, and as a result in 2006 the new vessel was named St John by HRH The Princess Royal at a ceremony in front of the boathouse, attended by crew members and families, committee members and local dignitaries.
The reporting year is from June to June, and in 2007-8 there were ten fatalities on Loch Lomond which the crew responded to, including a much publicised double drowning — a tragic incident which affected both crew and committee.
They dealt with 69 callouts by police using the pager system — mainly to boats which had run out of fuel, broken down, or got lost — taking 95 people to safety.
Says coxswain Frank Rogers (pictured below presenting crew members to Princess Anne): “These types of calls could easily have been prevented if only a little more thought had been put into preparation.
“It is fair to say that although these calls are frustrating, if they are left unattended and conditions change, they could develop into something more serious.”
Safety cover was also provided for eight organised Loch Lomond events.
The rescue boat has a close relationship with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park authority, who dealt with 76 incidents during that year.
They also work closely with the Arrochar and Loch Lomond mountain rescue teams, Strathclyde Police divers, the Search and Rescue helicopter from HMS Gannet at Prestwick, Strathclyde Fire Brigade, the Air Ambulance, and the Search and Rescue Dog Association.
The rescue boat is an independent charity, run entirely by volunteers and financed through local and crew fund-raising events and donations. The local branch of the Order of St John, St John Dunbartonshire, is also committed to giving regular support, and in October 2008 presented a cheque for £750.
The boat is manned from a pool of 22 local volunteers who live within an eight mile radius and train every Wednesday evening and Sunday morning, as well as devoting a lot of time to fundraising, with events such as a sponsored cycle from Edinburgh to Balloch, a sponsored pedallo journey from Ardlui to Balloch, and race nights.
They are certified in search and rescue techniques, Royal Yachting Association Power Boating, emergency First Aid and advanced Life Support. It is also a RYA recognised teaching establishment.
The St John is a 6.5 metre VT Halmatic Arctic 22 Rigid Inflatable Boat propelled by two 115 hp Mercury 4-stroke outboards, which can reach the furthest end of the loch within 20 minutes. The top speed is around 50mph, and it has seating for a crew of eleven. The annual running cost is £12-14,000, depending on fuel prices.
The principle function is to ensure that a rescue service is provided for the public good and to encourage, promote and teach all aspects of safety in and around the waters of Loch Lomond, including the safety of people using boats, canoes, wind-surfers, jet skis and other vessels.
The crew provides cover for events such as the Dragon Boat Challenge, the New Year’s Day fancy dress water ski event, raft races, and triathlon swimming and canoeing. They also stood by at the 2008 Live at Loch Lomond music festival.
The boat can be called out by dialling 999 for Strathclyde Police or Clyde Coast Guard, or by contacting the Ranger Service at Balloch. The Coast Guard also monitor VHF radio channel 16.
- Photos by Donald Fullarton.