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Hylton prepares to bid farewell to Aith Lifeboat

| Written by Chris Cope

Aith lifeboat coxswain Hylton Henry is preparing to step down from his role after years at the helm. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News Aith lifeboat coxswain Hylton Henry is preparing to step down from his role after years at the helm. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News AITH Lifeboat coxswain Hylton Henry is set to wave goodbye to the RNLI when he retires from his role after nearly 40 years at the Westside station.

Hylton, who is thought to be one of the longest serving RNLI crew members in the UK, reaches the retirement age of 55 in May.

He said the role became to be more of a "way of life" than just a job.

Hylton, who is 54, joined the Aith Lifeboat station when he was just 16 before rising through the ranks to deputy coxswain in 1986.

In 1990 he moved up to coxswain, going full-time four years later, and he has held the role ever since.

"It was never done for financial reasons, it was just the satisfaction you got when you helped somebody out," Hylton said.

"Family life suffers from it a fair bit. If you don't have anybody that can cover for you, then you couldn't do anything. You have to be so close to the station when you're on duty, because you need to try to get the boat away as quick as you can."

Hylton reflected on the "wide variety" of jobs he has had to do over the years, which have ranged from false alarms to fatal accidents.

The Aith Lifeboat, for instance, attended the scene when the Super Puma helicopter crashed into the sea off Sumburgh in 2013, which led to four deaths.

"There's been sad times - some very sad times - but there's been a lot of good memories as well," Hylton said.

"It's been a tremendous job that I was very fortunate to have. I'll be very sad to give it up. But life has to move on."

One other job which sticks out in memory is rescuing 'Captain Calamity' Stuart Hill from a ply wood boat in 2008, which had been described as a "floating wardrobe".

Hylton said spending time with his ten grandchildren will keep him occupied once he retires, but it will all take a bit of time to get used to.

"Getting used to the freedom is going to be the biggest thing," he said.

"Being able to get up and go without telephoning anybody. That's a great feeling, because I've not had that in 30 odd years.

"Being a charity, it's not like other rescue services where you can do a week and take a week off. You're basically on duty 24/7, unless you have somebody who can deputise for you.

"It's changed a bit now from what it was. It was really bad when I started first. I mind three years in a row that I got no full-length holiday."

And one thing Hylton won't miss, either, is being called out when the Shetland weather is whipping up a cantankerous storm.

"It's a very unpleasant place to be, and very humbling," he said. "I certainly will not miss being chucked about in a washing machine. It's a young man's game.

"The pager goes and it's just a case of grabbing whatever you need and going out the door, and the next thing ten minutes later you're lifted 40 feet in the air and falling again."

For more information on the Aith Lifeboat vacancy, visit the RNLI website.

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