Tribute paid after Morecambe Lifeboats figurehead Harry Roberts passes away at 62

The 'driving force' behind Morecambe RNLI who played a pivotal role in numerous sea rescues has passed away.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 11:43 am
Harry Roberts MBE passed away on Tuesday April 13.

Harry Roberts MBE died on Tuesday April 13 at the age of 62 after a five year battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Harry was born in Oldham and spent his early childhood in Ireland before moving to Morecambe.

He served his time as a painter and decorator after leaving high school and ran his own business for more than 30 years.

The sea had always been an important part of Harry’s life. From learning to sail during high school to learning how to water ski in Ibiza.

He joined the RNLI as a volunteer lifeboat crew in 1986 as a crew member as the station was short staffed at the time.

With dedication and training he swiftly worked his way up the ranks to become senior helmsman.

Harry had many memorable rescues and was awarded a ‘Thanks on Vellum’ in 2000 for his ‘seamanship, boat handling, decision making and leadership’ in a Force 5 rescue of the yacht ‘Lady Friendship’.

In 2002 the RNLI introduced the inshore rescue hovercraft to their fleet. This enabled vital rescue work in areas inaccessible to conventional lifeboats such as Morecambe Bay.

Harry was involved in the initial building of the Griffon Hovercraft and the trials within Morecambe Bay. He went on to become the first volunteer hovercraft commander for the RNLI, then senior hovercraft commander at the station for several years.

In 2005 Harry stated: “Our hovercraft is invaluable. A lot of our rescuers would be very difficult to execute in any other craft. This craft gives us a far quicker response time by allowing us to take the direct route across the estuary and mudflats, often to otherwise inaccessible areas.”

The Morecambe Bay cockling disaster in 2004 proved both the RNLI hovercraft and its volunteer crew were indispensable.

Harry was commander of the hovercraft the night of the tragedy, which saw him flying the hovercraft for 22 hours.

After this tragic event, the stations crew were both physically and mentally exhausted, but due to the dedication and commitment of the station and crew, they re-launched at 11pm the next evening for another emergency call-out.

The cockling tragedy is still a very poignant memory for Harry, Morecambe Lifeboat station and Morecambe as a whole.

Harry was awarded an MBE in 2008 by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to maritime safety.

In 2018 Harry retired from his senior hovercraft commander role due to ill health. He then accepted the new pivotal role of deputy launching authority. This is a vital decision-making role which assesses if it is safe for the lifeboat and hovercraft to launch when an emergency call comes through.

Harry also retired from his role as station mechanic, a role he has held at the station since 1993. Previously D-Class mechanic and since 2002 the hovercraft mechanic, this saw him look after the maintenance of the 'Hurley Flyer' and her transporter 'Spirit of Morecambe'.

Lifeboat operations manager Steve Wilson said: “Harry was very much the driving force in Morecambe RNLI, first hover commander in the fleet, senior helm, senior commander, driver behind the future crew scheme, lifeboat and hover mechanic and latterly a launch authority.

"He was rightly honoured for his services with an MBE. He will be greatly missed!”

Harry was married to Gill, and the pair would have celebrated 30 years of marriage on April 15.

He also leaves two children, Hayley and Daniel, from a first marriage and Amy, his daughter with Gill. He also has a granddaughter, Esmae.

Harry's family said: "We would like to thank everybody for their kind messages. We are all very proud of everything Harry achieved. People always called him a hero, which he never saw himself as. But we all agree, he was a hero, our hero.”

Funeral details are to be confirmed.