Sea Palling lifeboat recruit just 17

PUBLISHED: 11:17 04 August 2009 | UPDATED: 14:35 03 July 2010

THIS summer teenagers might be wandering around looking for something to fill their days - or even be getting up to no good.

For most the biggest excitement might be soaking up the sun on a beach or the chance to sleep in until midday.

THIS summer teenagers might be wandering around looking for something to fill their days - or even be getting up to no good.

For most the biggest excitement might be soaking up the sun on a beach or the chance to sleep in until midday.

But 17-year-old Lewis Gladding will be “doing different” - heading out on lifesaving missions as the youngest member of his local lifeboat crew.

The young man, who lives in Sea Palling, joined its independent station last year and has been on a number of training courses, including first-aid.

At just 17 - he will not turn 18 until next April - Lewis is the youngest member of his crew and is younger than most lifeboat volunteers around the country.

He is just back from joining in with his first shout - taking charge of the radio as he and the other volunteers went to rescue two teenagers who had drifted out on a dinghy. The boys had been taken about one mile out to sea by an offshore wind which had made it too difficult to paddle back.

Lewis, who lives with his mum Diane, dad Shawn, brothers Liam, 12, and Lloyd, 13, and sister Chelsea, 10, said: “The first one was very nerve-wracking. I couldn't talk. My legs were like jelly. You never know what to expect.”

Even as Lewis and his crew mates were beginning to put their boat away, he was surprised to find himself heading out on his second shout within minutes to help a man left stranded when his speedboat broke down.

Lewis's role in the rescues was a proud moment for his family.

Grandmother Christine Turner, 56, who lives in Norwich, said: “Talk about a lump in your throat - the thought of him going out at sea. But he said 'I wasn't afraid of the sea, I was more afraid of not getting there in time.'”

The teenager, who works full-time at Sandy Hills Family Amusements in Sea Palling after leaving school last year, admits he was not a fan of lessons but has surprised himself by how much he enjoys learning as part of his volunteering.

He said: “I enjoy the writing and charting work because one day I know I will have to use it.”

And having caught the lifesaving bug, the former Stalham High student now hopes to train as a coastguard.

“That way I can work there part time, earn a wage, and still be helping with the lifeboat too,” he said.

His dad, 43, said Lewis was so eager he already had the application form at home - but could not send it off until he was 18.

Ian Flaxman, coxswain for the Sea Palling lifeboat, said Lewis was an important member of the crew who had been a great help during last week's call-outs.

He said: “He takes responsibility for what he does in a big way and he relates to adults in a very mature way. We're fortunate to have him.”

Members can join the Sea Palling crew, which is not restricted to RNLI rules, at the age of 16 with a letter of consent from a parent.

After receiving enough training to go out on the boat, calls are vetted to ensure they will not be too harrowing for the teens.

Mr Flaxman said that while the crew had had people join at Lewis' age before, he could not remember any going out on shouts.

Lewis' achievements are even more unusual when looking at RNLI crews. Their members join at 17 and undergo training which usually takes between one and two years before they can board the boat as fully fledged crew.

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