Well known Swanage resident and local estate agent Dave Corben, who briefly retired as a Swanage RNLI volunteer after 50 years of service, is now returning to the helm.
At the age of 70, Dave had to step down after 15 years in 2020 as the deputy launching authority (DLA) – the person who decides when to launch the lifeboat. This followed 35 years as a member of the crew.
Dave Corben in his favourite seat on the lifeboat, the navigator seat
“A priviledge to still be involved”
Now two years later, Dave is back having just been appointed as chairman of Swanage Lifeboat Station, following in the footsteps of his father Eddie who took on the same role for several years.
His son Anthony is a member of the current crew and his brother John served on the crew for many years.
“It’s a great honour to have been asked and a privilege to still be involved with Swanage RNLI.
“When I had to retire as a DLA they took away my radio but everytime the boat went out I wanted to know what was going on – I always want to know what’s going on!
“To be quite honest I’d still like to be a member of the crew on the boat but physically I know I wouldn’t be able to do it now.”
Former Swanage RNLI crew. Left to right: Martin Steeden, Chris Haw, Colin Marks, John Deare, Neil Hardy and Dave Corben
“Back in the day there was always a whisky flask on the boat”
Dave added with a smile:
“Although we were tougher back in those days! We got pitched and tossed about all the time.
“The old lifeboat, the Rother, only did eight knots, there was nowhere to sit and there was a well of water round your feet.
“In the 1970s you got all your training from the old boys who shouted out what to do. Now the modern crew go on lots of courses and have to tick a lot of boxes!
“Back in the day there was always a whisky flask on the boat but of course now you’re not even allowed on the boat if you’ve had a drink – but all for the good.”
Dave Corben, alongside his brother John Corben with HRH the Duke of Kent
Letting off a maroon to alert the crew
Dave remembers his father Eddie Corben when he was a DLA alerting the crew to launch by physically firing a maroon – a warning rocket. He said:
“My father would get a phone call from the coastguard and then pull out a maroon from a big box in a drawer at the estate agency and then go out into Station Road and let it off.
“It was phased out after one occasion when the maroon fired out at 90 degrees, went through a guest house window and exploded in their loft!
“It also caused a bit of a problem as it alerted the whole town and on a busy summer’s day, the crew would have to navigate through the crowd of visitors who all wanted to get down to the lifeboat station to watch the launch.”
The Swanage Defibrillator Partnership team. Second from left: Dave Corben
Founder member of the Swanage Community Defibrillator Group
Dave joined the Coastguard Marine Cliff Rescue team at the age of 17 and a couple of years later he became a member of the Swanage Lifeboat crew. He is one of the RNLI’s longest serving crew members in the country.
As well as his dedication to the RNLI, Dave is a founder member of the Swanage Community Defibrillator Group which has over the last eight years raised enough funds to provide 36 defibrillators throughout the Isle of Purbeck.
Swanage Lifeboat Week in August 2022 at Prince Albert Gardens
“Enables us to save lives”
Now as chair of Swanage RNLI, Dave’s responsibilities include the coordination of the lifeboat crew with all the other local rescue services and fundraising. He said:
“First and foremost will be the organisation of our big fundraiser Swanage Lifeboat Week in August but we’ve also got the 200th anniversary of the founding of the RNLI in 2024 and the 150th anniversary of Swanage Lifeboat Station in 2025, so there’s plenty going on.
“Fundraising is crucial as we are a charity and it’s the money to fund the service that enables us to save lives, which is what it’s all about.”
Left to right back row: Mike Bonfield, Nick Harris, Chris Haw and Terry Pond. Front row: Dave Corben, Martin Steeden, Des Fitzgerald, Adrian Bird
Awarded a Medal Service Certificate
As an estate agent, Dave has experienced many peaks and troughs, but none compare to some of the dangerous rescues amid the rolling waves of the English Channel.
In 1989 he was honoured with a Vellum Service Certificate for the rescue to the Ro-Ro ferry ‘Al Kwather’ in severe weather and seven years later he was awarded a Medal Service Certificate for the rescue of the crew of the yacht Be Happy in hurricane force winds on the night of 28th October 1996.
Dave Corben receiving his service certificate from John Whybrow
“In real danger of capsizing”
Recalling the Be Happy rescue, Dave said:
“They were 20 miles out into the English Channel in 125 mile per hour winds. The yacht’s engine had failed, its sails had been blown out.
“The yacht had been knocked down a number of times and was in real danger of capsizing in the 30 ft high waves. The helicopter could not lift them because their mast was swinging so violently.”
Despite the horrendous conditions that night, the Swanage Lifeboat crew successfully rescued all the crew aboard the yacht.
The new Swanage Lifeboat Station with the all weather lifeboat
Back on board at the lifeboat station
So at the age of 72, Dave Corben is back on board at the lifeboat station and also continues his work at the estate agency. He said:
“I’m always being asked when I’m going to retire but I still enjoy coming to work and I hope that taking on this new role at the RNLI I can continue to contribute even if it’s only in a small way.
“I must thank my wife Marion for all her support over the years – she has had to put up with so much, like many of the other wives and husbands of the crew.
“Once we were having a dinner party and she said to me, ‘You won’t go out will you?’ I assured her that it was fine, then of course there was a shout and I just went to make sure that enough crew had turned up but then the coxswain said they only had five members of crew, so off I went. Thankfully she eventually forgave me!
“Perhaps one day I will heed my wife’s advice and retire – but not yet!”
- More about Swanage Lifeboat Station is on the RNLI website