Record year as lifeboat crews called out three times every day

LIFEBOAT crews were busier than ever last year after the increasing popularity of coastal recreation was accelerated by the stay-at-home holiday boom.

Scotland's lifeboats were launched 1,121 times in 2009 – 6 per cent more than the previous record year of 2005 and more than a fifth up on 2000.

A total of 912 people were rescued in the call-outs, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) will report today.

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Incidents included a baby boy being delivered on board as his mother was being taken to hospital. The child became the fourth baby – and the first boy – to be delivered in the Oban boat in the past 12 years. A pregnant woman and her family on Loch Ness were rescued after their cruiser broke down in bad weather.

Most rescues involved leisure incidents such as people in danger of drowning, being cut off by the tide or in stricken pleasure boats.

Broughty Ferry, near Dundee, was the busiest station in Scotland, rescuing 44 people among its 103 launches. The busiest single RNLI lifeboat was at South Queensferry, with 118 people rescued from 70 launches.

Officials said the record number of launches was partially due to more people holidaying in the UK because of the recession. However, they added that leisure-based call-outs had increased significantly over the last decade, while those involving fishermen and commercial mariners had remained stable.

Across the UK and Ireland, the number of people rescued after being cut off by the tide and stuck on rocks and cliffs has more than doubled since 2000. Those rescued from the sea have increased by 61 per cent.

Incidents involving surfboards and other manual craft have rocketed by 84 per cent since 2000, while those involving powered pleasure craft have increased by two-thirds, and those for sail pleasure craft by a quarter.

In total, 8,186 people were rescued as part of the 9,154 launches last year – the first time the figure has topped 9,000 in the RNLI's 186-year history. The charity, which operates more than 230 lifeboat stations, has saved a total of more than 137,000 lives.

Incidents south of the Border included helping hundreds of residents of Cockermouth in Cumbria reach safety during November's floods.

The figures were published in the run-up to the RNLI's main annual fundraising day on Friday, when events will be held across the UK.

Michael Vlasto, the charity's operations director, said: "The record-breaking figures in 2009 may be, in part, due to people holidaying at home in the UK and Ireland instead of planning holidays abroad during last year's financial uncertainty. However, we look at long-term trends and, as we start a new decade, the figures for the past ten years show our lifeboats have launched close to 80,000 times, rescuing 76,489 people."