Northern Ireland

The lifeboat rescue teams on call on Christmas Day

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe lifeboat rescue teams on call on Christmas Day

Come stormy seas or sunshine - the drill is the same for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) volunteers all year round.

The RNLI began saving lives at sea in 1824 and almost 200 years later, its volunteers will be on call throughout the 24 hours of Christmas Day.

At Larne Lifeboat station, it's a festive family affair.

Some of the volunteers are directly related, but all of them regard their fellow crew members as extended family.

Fiona Kirkpatrick's day job is in pharmacy and she volunteers with her husband, Barry, a teacher.

The couple have two young children and despite juggling family life and careers, they give their spare time to the RNLI for training and emergency calls.

Image caption Fiona Kirkpatrick's day job is in pharmacy and she volunteers with her husband, Barry, a teacher.

Fiona told BBC News NI her life is "a balancing act all year round" as the RNLI is just as busy in winter as in the summer.

"Often family barbecues are interrupted with the pagers going off, but my daughter, Isla, is now three and she's got used to it. She knows that mummy or daddy or both might go," she said.

"You maybe wouldn't have that glass of wine with your Christmas dinner in case the pager goes, but it's just something that's become quite normal and part of our lives."

While weather conditions in the run up to Christmas can be difficult, RNLI volunteers still train to hone their skills on a weekly basis, and could be called to an emergency at any time - including on Christmas Day.

Image caption Some of the Larne volunteers are directly related, but they all regard their fellow crew members as extended family

Barry explained that "whole families and other crew members" are on call on Christmas Day.

"They know if that pager goes, they have to leave their Christmas dinner, but no-one minds doing it at all. It's just part of life."

Barry said he hopes his children will continue the Kirkpatrick tradition with the RNLI in years to come.

Image caption Barry Kirkpatrick hopes his children will one day be part of the Larne RNLI team

"We've had fathers recently whose children have turned 17 and joined the crew and just to see the pride that they have in their children joining the crew with them - I think it's great."

Such is the case for Alan Dorman, whose son and daughter are both members of the crew in Larne.

Inevitably though, lurking behind the pride is an underlying anxiety about their wellbeing and a relief when they return from sea safely.

As a volunteer himself, he's responsible for dispatching his children to sea, often to potentially dangerous situations.

"I always worry about them, but I worry about all the crew - it's just like a big family," he said.

Image caption RNLI volunteer Alan Dorman, left, dispatches his own children to sea, including son, Chris

"You're concerned when they're out there, but you know they have the gear, they've been trained well.

"You're just glad to see them back in."

With so many family members involved with the RNLI, Alan admits that family gatherings can be difficult.

"I've had two grandkids' parties where the pager has gone off in the middle of them and everybody just leaves.

"It might be nine or ten pagers going at once."

As well as volunteering together, the Dormans work together in their family business.

Alan's son, Chris, said: "We're all easy going, which definitely helps, we don't get worked up. We're a very close family."

Catherine and Steven Lee also work together during the day, and both volunteer with the RNLI during their spare time.

Steven is a press officer in Larne, while his wife is a crew member.

"Catherine goes to sea, I'm based on the land so I'm incredibly proud of what she does," he said.

"I know she's exceptionally brave and is willing to answer the call no matter what when the pager goes off. It's 24-hour cover, 365 days of the year."

Image caption Catherine Lee volunteers at sea, while her husband Steven is an RNLI press officer in Larne

Catherine said: "It's nice at our station that there's such a sense of family.

"There's us, there are a few more married couples, fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, and it's nice that everyone is involved together because it just gives it a real homely feeling whenever we're here."

As for being on call over Christmas, it's "not an issue", said Catherine.

"We're all happy to do it. If someone was in trouble, we'd rather be out helping them than anything else."

Related Topics

More on this story