During it’s Victorian heyday, Sidmouth was home to an RNLI Station, situated across the road from the current Lifeboat station. The Engraved keystone can still be seen today, having been incorporated into the new block of flats built on the site. From 1869 to 1912 the Lifeboats “Rimmington”, followed by the “William & Francis” saved a total of 38 lives.
The crews had never really been busy and following a decline of general activities in and around Sidmouth, it was felt that the RNLI could no longer justify the Sidmouth Lifeboat station and in 1912 the service was withdrawn.
In 1881 the Duke & Duchess of Edinburgh arrived off Sidmouth in HMS Lively, in order that his Royal Highness might land & inspect the Coastguard Station.
Proceeding in a steam pinnace towards the shore, it was struck by a sea, which nearly capsized it. The Lifeboat “Rimmington”, which had been readied for inspection, was at once launched and proceeded alongside the pinnace, where the Duke & Duchess were taken onboard and landed safely ashore.
Pictured to the left are the crew of the Sidmouth Lifeboat. Standard protective equipment of the time consisted of oil skins, woollen jumpers, and cork lifejackets. The cork lifejackets were developed by Captain Ward, an RNLI Inspector, to give the crews buoyancy and weather protected during rescues.
As the picture to the right shows, recovering the lifeboats “Rimmington” and “William & Francis” was a major operation. Many of the townsfolk turned out to assist in launching & recovering the Lifeboat.
Following the departure of the RNLI from Sidmouth, lifeboat cover was provided by the RNLI lifeboats at Exmouth and Lyme Regis. In the mid sixties leisure activities were increasing in Sidmouth, resulting in more people using Sidmouth’s beaches. In 1968 Students from the local secondary school
formed a surf life saving organisation, that was to become the Sidmouth Lifeboat Service of today. Founder members included Keith Roberts and Alan Phillips, who is today’s Hon Sec.
Initially beach patrols were run, covering Jacobs Ladder beach during the weekends in summer time. The first HQ was located at the Clock Tower above Jacob Ladder Beach. In 1972 the level of cover provided was greatly increased following the purchase of a prototype 16ft Atlantic Rigid Inflatable ( RIB ), for running day time patrols and surf rescue. The lifeboat had a 40hp outboard engine and was used to cover Sidmouth & Jacobs Ladder Beaches. The Coastguard then provided extra training & a radio so that they could liaise and contact the crew.
In the late 1970’s the level of cover was increase to include evenings and eventually through the purchase of a pager system, to 24 hour cover. In 1982 Sidmouth Inshore Rescue Service became a declared rescue facility with the Coastguard and made available for callouts 24 / 7. The Lifeboat “Storm” was purchased & dedicated in 1985 the Rev. Richard Sigrist. The Lifeboat was named by crewmember Robin Coop, after his 11 year old daughter.
1991 saw the arrival of a bigger and more capable lifeboat. “Spirit Of Sidmouth” was a 5m Humber lifeboat, that hosted a number of improvements over the previous lifeboats. Powered by twin 40 hp Mariner engines and carrying GPS navigation, fixed base radio and a full first aid compliment, “Spirit Of Sidmouth” was the first of the modern type of lifeboat at Sidmouth Inshore Rescue Service.
In April 1996 Lifeboat “Spirit Of Sidmouth” with crew members Alan Stevenson, Ian Weedon & Sue Cooper rescued 4 people cut off by the tide at night. Due to the shallow water and numerous rocks, Coxswain Alan & Ian entered the water and walked the lifeboat over the rocks to the casualties. Alan & Ian assisted the people to the lifeboat and assisted them onboard. The Royal Lifesaving Society awarded the crew their commendation for this rescue.
In 1999 the Atlantic 21 lifeboat “Sidmouth Herald” came on station. The new lifeboat necessitated the building of a new Lifeboat Station and the design andconstruction of a new drive on drive off launching system. A heavily ballasted and marinised Renault tractor, complete with launching trailer was designed and constructed by then crew member Barrie Whittock.
Lifeboat “Sidmouth Herald” was powered by twin 60hp mariner engines, giving a range of 90mn / 2.5 hr at top speed. Other features included self righting capability, GPS Chartplotter for improved navigation & Night Vision Equipment.
On 3rd March 2004 “Sidmouth Herald” with crew members Simon Sparrow, Chris Bass, Phil Shepperd & Mike Vittles assisted in the rescue of a person that had fallen 150 down cliffs at Peak Hill. Using night vision equipment, flares and searchlights, the crew located the person trapped on the cliffs and guided Beer CRT team to his location. The person was winched up the cliff face and flown to hospital by Coastguard helicopter. The crew received the Chief Coastguards Commendation for this rescue.