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Lifeboat Stations

Open No2 Surf Lifeboat at Aberdeen Beach being launched from her Carriage

The Aberdeen Lifeboat station was one of the earliest in Scotland, being established in 1802 by the Harbour Commissioners. Like the station at Arbroath its 1st lifeboat was built by Henry Greathead. In 1875 a 2nd Station was established and up to 1925 the Aberdeen Lifeboat had the magnificent record of 589 lives rescued.  At the beginning of 1925, at the request of the Harbour Commissioners, the Institution assumed control of the Lifeboats and of the Rocket Life-Saving Apparatus at the Old South Breakwater Pier, Torry and at the North Pier, the Commissioners agreeing to contribute £500 a year towards their upkeep.

Rocket House
Before the advent of helicopters, if a lifeboat was unable to reach a stricken vessel, the only alternative means of rescue was the rocket-propelled Life-Saving Apparatus (LSA). One LSA unit was located at this Rocket House, by the old South Breakwater and the other at the beach end of Footdee, on the opposite side of the Harbour. Unusually, Aberdeen Harbour’s LSA teams were run by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution rather than HM Coastguard, with Harbour staff and volunteers pushing the equipment to the scene on handcarts. The LSA teams were in existence from the 1920s until the 1960s, when the service was withdrawn.  During that period they took part in more than 50 rescues

The 1st Lifeboat Station was situated at the North Pier near the slipway of the Lower Pocra Jetty from 1802 until 1853 when a New Station was built on the south side of Pilot Square, Footdee.  In 1874, the Station was moved again, this time to North Square, Footdee, beside the Beach. The lifeboat stationed here became known as the Beach Lifeboat. Another Lifeboat was purchased for the station in 1875, this became known as the Harbour Lifeboat, and she was kept inside a specially built Floating Boathouse at Pocra Quay until a new house was built at Pocra Quay in 1877.

Three months after the Duke of Sutherland was shipwrecked on the 30th March 1853, Pilot Captain Morrison was served with 21 new regulations made after an emergency meeting of the Harbour Board. They leave no doubt that this was a reprimand, but more than that, a confirmation that safety of the harbour was the over-riding duty of the Captain Pilot. Reading the list it was deemed that simply he had failed as Fittie’s Gatekeeper Because of the heavy loss of life Aberdeen Harbour Commissioners appointed a full-time crew for the lifeboat and ordered an enquiry. The lifeboat had arrived alongside the casualty only 1/2 an hour after she had struck, but had been so badly damaged by floating debris that she was unable to return to the stranded steamer. The delay in the use of the Dennett Rockets was found to be due to a combination of inexperience, heavy spray soaking the rocket fuses and misguided interference from the huge crowd of onlookers.  Captain Morrison was in his 60th year when morning dawned on the wreck of the Duke of Sutherland. He was never to recover, and developed a chronic chest condition from the drenching he had received.  Surely the Captain was hardy, yet he was also thrawn for he did not, and would not, retire. He worked on till his very last breath. Captain Morrison died at the Roundhouse in July 1856. His funeral was held at St Clements and in a mark of respect the ‘vessels in the harbour universally hoisted a flag half-mast high, as evincing respect’.

Lifeboat Training at Fittie c.1900 provides a public spectacle as LSA Unit  Lifeline Men run lines and gear from the strand the Police hold back the spectators from the main beach training zone - this may be a regular training exercise for deploying the  Life-Saving Apparatus which was wheeled about in customised Hand Carts.  Some instructions are painted on the lidsb of the handcarts

The North Pier extends outward with more spectators or observers  assembled on the Capstan Bulwark in the background for a grandstand view.

1890 saw the Harbour Lifeboat move again, this time to the Shelter Jetty, from where she was slip launched from a carriage. This station remained until the RNLI took over the Lifeboats in 1925, when the City's first motor lifeboat, Emma Constance, was moored afloat at Pocra Jetty. The No. 2 Surf Lifeboat, remained at Footdee on her carriage until 1962. The carriage launched lifeboat was removed from there in 1962 and the building has since been demolished.

1973 saw the Aberdeen Lifeboat move to its present mooring at Victoria Dock Entrance, the All Weather Lifeboat was moored alongside a specially constructed floating pontoon. The present station was built in 1997, using the generous bequest of Miss A G Davidson of Aberdeen and replaced the crew accommodation which was housed in a porta-cabin beside the floating pontoon. The new station offers much improved crew facilities and houses the Inshore Lifeboat in purpose built accommodation.

Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain Thomas Sinclair a for the rescue of 2 of the crew of 5 of the trawler George Stroud that went aground approximately 50ft from the North Pier wall in heavy seas and a strong south-easterly wind on Christmas Day 1935. Coxswain Sinclair handled the lifeboat with courage, determination and skill, taking her 5 times into the narrow space between the pier wall and the wreck.

Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain Sinclair and a Bronze Medal to Mechanic Alexander Weir and crew member John Masson and The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum was accorded to Second Coxswain George A Flett; Second Assistant Mechanic James Cowper; Assistant Mechanic Robert J B Esson; John M Noble and Alexander S Masson in recognition of their meritorious conduct when the lifeboat launched on 26 January 1937 and rescued the crew of 7 of the steamer Fairy drifting towards the heavy surf 2 miles south of Belhelvie. It was blowing a gale from the south east with a very heavy sea, the night was very dark and it was intensely cold and snowing hard. One man fell between the steamer and lifeboat and was promptly grabbed by John Masson, who saved the man's life at the risk of being dragged overboard himself. This service was carried out in the face of considerable danger.

RLNI Float Cart of 1933

Cart in Aberdeen Harbour's maintenance department's yard at Matthews Quay with coat of arms on top and surrounding banner part reading 'Royal National Lifeboat Institute' wrapped around top of cart with pennants, Scottish and Australian flags, coat of arms is of the Lion and Unicorn with 'honi soit qui mal y pense', 'dieu et mon droit" - in the background the works department offices

Silver Medal (Second-Service clasp) awarded to Coxswain Thomas Sinclair and Bronze Medals awarded to 2nd Coxswain George Fleet and Acting Motor Mechanic J B Esson for the rescue of 2 from a crew of 8 of the trawler Roslin which went aground, almost submerged with seas sweeping over her, just south of the mouth of the River Ythan at Newburgh on the bitter cold night of 5 November 1937. Unable to anchor and veer down the lifeboat 6 times ran aboard the wreck before 2 survivors could be taken from the rigging. After a long and arduous search the damaged lifeboat returned to station at 5am.

Any profession involving the Sea is a hazardous one. It was not unusual for boats to become stranded off the Belhelvie shore and the Belhelvie Company of Coastguards was formed in 1878 to deal with such problems. In the 20th century they won 3 National Rescue Shields: in 1948, in 1966 jointly with Collieston, and in 1974 along with Aberdeen and Cruden Bay. 45 ships were stranded in the area over the previous half century. The following cases of the lifeboat and coastguard teams in action exemplify the treacherous nature of the waters around the Belhelvie shoreline. In 1900, the Schooner Mary grounded while transporting coals from Sunderland to Banff. Her crew of 4 were later picked up in their lifeboat by the steam trawler North American which belonged to the Aberdeen-based North Line, and the men were safely brought into Aberdeen. In July 1948 Belhelvie received the shield for life saving from Sir Lionel Wells for rescuing 12 men off the trawler Northman earlier in the year. The honour of receiving the shield was repeated in 1966 when Douglas Jay, MP and President of the Board of Trade awarded it to the Belhelvie and Collieston Coastguard. They rescued 6 men by breeches buoy when their fishing boat, Semnos II, became stranded on 16th December 1966. A decade later the 2 brothers Troup, Alex and John, who had both served 50 years in the Belhelvie Auxiliary Coastguards, were awarded their 2nd clasps on 7th December 1977. Their father before them had also received a long-service medal. Several other vessels have come ashore in recent decades, as reports in the local press archives attest. Given the nature of the sea it is unlikely that Balmedie beach has seen its last wreck.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013