By Karen Cox
A long-serving supporter of Ramsgate RNLI has been presented with an award marking 40 years of dedication.
Long service awards are no longer restricted to active crew members and recently Ramsgate Coxswain Ian Cannon chose to honour supporter Tony Wylie.
RNLI stations and their volunteer crews are well documented but supporting them is a small group of volunteers who dedicate their time to fundraising, running their shops and also helping out with the day to day operations of the station. Without these people the RNLI would not be able to continue saving lives at sea.
Tony Wylie was honoured with a 40 year long service award in recognition of his services in launching the lifeboat.
Although Tony was never an active crew member, he comes from a family with close connections to Ramsgate RNLI, with several of his uncles becoming part of the volunteer team.
He left school and started an apprenticeship to become a book binder however he wanted an outdoor life and in 1968 he decided to get a job working for Ramsgate Harbour.
By 1973 Tony was working in Port Control which is based at the end of the East Pier at the entrance to the Ramsgate Royal Harbour. In those days if there was a situation at sea, Port Control would be the first contact for HM Coastguard, who would phone and then it would be their decision to launch the lifeboat.
When there was immediate peril to life Tony would make the decision to fire the maroon, which was a booming rocket, originally from the end of the pier, and then in later years from the RNLI station.
Although the volunteer crews these days use pagers to be alerted about a launch, up until 2009 the lifeboat crew, who mainly live and work around the harbour, were summoned by the firing of a maroon flare, a familiar sound for the people of Ramsgate. Port Control still set off a recorded message and siren to make people around the town aware that the lifeboat is launching and to clear the way to allow the crew to get to the boats.
Although employed at the harbour, Tony was also responsible for completing the service reports for the RNLI, listing and detailing all of the launches.
On his retirement from the harbour five years ago, Tony became Deputy Launch Authority and then two years later, when Ray Noble retired, he took over as Lifeboat Operations Manager responsible for the smooth running of the station until this day.
Although the Coastguards can request the launch of a lifeboat the final decision in Ramsgate lies with Tony and in the past he has refused after considering the situation. He has to bear in mind that the RNLI is funded solely by donations from the public and he has the responsibility to ensure the lifeboats are always available to set to sea to rescue lives.
It’s a fine balance. When, prior to laying cable, a survey of the seabed found armaments from World War Two, a request was made by the Coastguards for a bomb disposal team to be taken out to the site in the inshore lifeboat. This was for a private company and would mean that the inshore lifeboat would be off station and not available should there be a need for it so a decision was taken to regretfully refuse the request.
Another time a buoy in the channel had come adrift and the request came through for the lifeboat to retrieve it as it may have been a danger to shipping. Having assessed the situation Tony realised that a Trinity House vessel was in the area, so asked for them to be sent after the buoy instead of launching the lifeboat.
It is his qualities of being able to assess a situation from many years of experience and to remain calm under pressure that have made him such a good Lifeboat Operations Manager.
Coxswain Ian Cannon who nominated him for this reward said: “ Tony is a knowledgeable, trustworthy man and a fine Operations Manager. He has supported the RNLI for over 40 years, and this well-deserved award is in recognition of his service.”
The award was presented at the station, but sadly due to current operating restrictions it was a low key affair and Tony’s wife, of 47 years, Elaine, and his daughter Ria were unable to attend. However that probably suited Tony who has always avoided the limelight, and dislikes making speeches preferring to work quietly in the background, something he has in common with many loyal volunteers.