Volunteers deserve our thanks for their efforts

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CLIVE SMITH: More people in Portsmouth simply means even more problems

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People often talk about the professionalism of people such as the HM Coastguard helicopter crews who are called upon to rescue those in peril on the sea.

They are rightly saluted for their skill and bravery and we are fortunate to have them on call should something go wrong out on the water or on our beaches.

But it is perhaps easy to forget that there are others contributing to our safety who do it voluntarily. Those who man the RNLI lifeboats for instance – or local members of the National Coastwatch Institution, whose valuable work is highlighted on pages 12 and 13 today.

As volunteers for a registered charity, they keep watch for free. Using a shift system, their eyes are peeled for vessels and people in trouble or objects and situations that are potentially dangerous.

Theirs is a simple but vital role that can help to save lives in an area that stretches from Ryde to Fawley.

‘Our job is to spot, plot and report,’ says Derry Sinclair, a deputy station manager at Lee-on-the-Solent and a retired master mariner. As the Coastguard relies on distress calls and radar, the NCI’s visual watch provides valuable back-up.

It does seem odd that this island nation does not have a fully-integrated safety network set up around its shores by the government. The NCI only came into being because small Coastguard lookouts were closed down due to government cuts.

But as we approach the summer, traditionally the busiest time for the waters off our coastline, we should be very thankful for those who give their time so that incidents can be spotted and the Coastguard alerted.

A recent example was how NCI members spotted a capsized dinghy about 200 yards out. The owner couldn’t right it and became exhausted. If they hadn’t reported he was in difficulties, who knows what could have happened to him?

Of course, we can all help by never going out to sea ill-equipped. Equipment such as lifejackets and flares should be compulsory. But for those who do get into trouble, the volunteers training their binoculars on the water are a reassuring presence.