Two centuries of saving lives at sea will be celebrated across Wales today, Monday March 4, and one Pembrokeshire station has even more reasons to join in with the festivities, as it celebrates a double first.

Fishguard RNLI Lifeboat Station is celebrating being both the oldest lifeboat station in Wales, as well as being the first Welsh station to have a female coxswain.

Western Telegraph: New coxswain Gemma is the first female coxswain in Wales.

Originally established in 1822, Fishguard’s first lifeboat was built by locals. In 1855, residents asked the RNLI to take over running the station.

Western Telegraph: Fishguard Lifeboat in its early incarnation.Picture: RNLI

Since 1824 Fishguard has been among the five Pembrokeshire stations to have launched 8,563 times saving 2,395 lives.

In total the RNLI’s volunteer lifeboat crews and beach lifeguards in west Wales have saved an incredible 3,891 lives during two centuries of lifesaving.

Western Telegraph: The crew all works together as a team.

Since the charity was founded in 1824 volunteer crews in west Wales have launched the lifeboats 14,872 times, saving 3,776 lives, while its lifeguards – who became part of the RNLI’s lifesaving service in 2001 – have responded to 8,865 incidents, saving 115 lives.

In total across the whole of the UK and Ireland, 146,452 lives have been saved by the RNLI – this equates to an average of two lives saved every day for 200 years. Throughout its history, Fishguard lifeboat station has been awarded 28 medals. One gold, 18 silver and nine bronze. Today the station operates a D-class inshore lifeboat Edward Arthur Richardson as well as a Trent class Blue Peter VII.

Western Telegraph: Fishguard RNLI Lifeboat Station is the oldest station in Wales.

New coxswain Gemma Gill, has been involved with the RNLI since childhood, first following in her mother’s footsteps as a fundraiser. As a child she raised money for the Blue Peter appeal that bought Fishguard’s current lifeboat, the boat of which she is now coxswain.

“It’s pretty cool being on that boat,” she said.

Western Telegraph: Gemma hopes she will inspire other women and girls to join the  crew.

Gemma joined the RNLI as a crew member when at university at Aberystwyth and split her time between crews in Poole and North Berwick until 2018 when she became a lifeboat trainer in Poole.

Five years later she made RNLI history by being the female coxswain in Wales.

Western Telegraph: Flo takes the helm with Gemma coordinating the operation.

"My early introduction to lifeboating was under the command of a helm called Rhona, who told me: 'don't let others decide what you are capable of'. I feel that is good advice for anyone starting anything new, whether it's at sea or in another context," she said.

"At one time, it was unusual to be a teacher or a doctor if you were a woman. I hope we’re moving towards a world where it will be ordinary for a woman to be anything, including a Lifeboat coxswain. 

"We've come a long way from the traditional image of the bearded lifeboatman in his oilskins, but the other women and I who serve on our coasts uphold the tradition shared by all lifeboat crews, we are committed, skilled and courageous. "

Western Telegraph: The volunteer crew come from all walks of life.

Gemma hopes that she will inspire people from all walks of life to join a lifeboat crew as the charity hopes to recruit more volunteers in its anniversary year.

As well as volunteer crew, there are also opportunities for volunteers shore staff and fundraisers who have helped keep the charity’s boats at sea for the last 200 years.

Western Telegraph: Shore crew play an important role in the lifeboat's operations.

Sylvia Hotchin joined Fishguard’s fundraisers in 1977. A lot has changed since then, and the fundraisers are now considered part of the RNLI’s One Crew.

In the past year Fishguard’s fundraisers have generated more than £18,600.

“We have a really enthusiastic fundraising team who work closely with the coxswain and crew,” she said.

Bicentenary fundraising events in Fishguard will include a Party on the Parrog and an Open Day and Breakwater event in the summer.

Western Telegraph: Getting up some spray in the waves and wind.

“We are really excited to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the RNLI,” she said. We see this as an opportunity to thank all our local supporters and lifesavers. Without their support we couldn’t continue.”

Jo Partner, RNLI head of region for Wales added:    “I am immensely grateful to everyone who is involved with the charity across Wales – our volunteers, supporters and staff. Today is a hugely significant day in our history and an occasion we should all be very proud of. I know there are lots of events being planned across Wales to mark this very special day and I hope people enjoy being part of this special piece of history.    

“I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those who play a part in making the RNLI the proud organisation is it today – which really is a cause for celebration.”