THERE isn't much James Radcliffe hasn't encountered during his time as a member of West Bay Coastguard Rescue Team.

He's been out on numerous rescues – his first job involved going to the aid of a sheep – and unfortunately has seen his fair share of tragedy at the coast too.

James, who many people will know from his 'day job' as the West Bay harbourmaster, also volunteers as a member of the local HM coastguard rescue service.

Described as 'the joker of the team', a 'live-wire' and a 'fantastic coastguard with 'invaluable knowledge and loyalty', he is being celebrated by his colleagues after 20 years in the coastguard service.

James has seen every member of his team, bar one, change since he first joined up as a member of the coastguard in 2001.

He marked 20 years in the service last week and is being honoured by the coastguard for his long service and good conduct. Whilst the team are unable to meet for its traditional medal giving ceremony due to Covid restrictions, James will still be awarded with a medal, which will be delivered in the coming weeks.

James joined the West Bay Coastguard when he was just 22-years-old. He was later appointed as West Bay harbour master in 2007, and is currently also the interim harbour master for Lyme Regis.

Looking back on his early days, James said: "I’d been the assistant harbour master at West Bay for four to five years at that point, I knew most of the team quite well and had already worked alongside them on various occasions relating to the harbour work and call-outs around the harbour. I had a real interest in what they were doing.

"I wanted to give something back to the community but I’d also seen the excitement around call outs (known as 'shouts').

"A number of the team members took me under their wing. Jamie Staple would always take on the newbies and make them feel welcome and help them with training.

"Jamie was actually my scout master and he was still teaching me knots in the c coastguard. He always told me to keep calm and give yourself time to think before you reacted to the situations unfolding in front of you."

James has always been local to the area, growing up in Bridport and attending St Catherine's Primary School before moving to Woodroffe School in Lyme Regis. Now 42, he has an eight-year-old son called Daniel.

Reflecting on his 20-years of service, James acknowledged that, unfortunately, the nature of the job means that the bad days tend stick with you more vividly than the good ones.

He said: "I’ve been on an awful lot of shouts over the 20 years but there are certainly some which stick in your mind. I’ve been involved in some quite horrific incidents where people have lost their lives and those always stick with you. They stay in your mind when you’re going to the same locations and you never lose them.

"They stick with you because you’re involved with the families and you deal with them in the day.

"There was one incident where two people lost their lives after someone went in to rescue a young lad who had gone in the water.

"I was on the shout with our station officer at the time and he actually went in the water himself.

It's not all bad, however, as for every incident which ends badly, James has seen plenty more have happy endings.

James said: "There are plenty of more positive events which stick in your mind too. There have been plenty of dog rescues, and it's always nice to see them reunited with their owners. There are so many good outcome jobs compared to the bad ones which are far and few.

"Any job where there is a good result gives me huge satisfaction. To know you’ve helped and done your bit to get the positive result is a good feeling."

He added: "I don’t see myself as a hero, I don’t think that’s the right word for it. I just see myself as someone who does their bit and makes a difference where I can.

"After 20 years I still want to go out there and make a difference. Even after all this time you still get that adrenaline when the pager goes off. It’s about getting out there and making that difference to the community by helping someone who needs your help."

Not all 'shouts' are quite so impactful though, as James recalled being sent out on his first job to rescue a sheep which had gone over the edge of a Seatown cliff. He also remembered a barbecue for his 30th birthday being disrupted after the whole team had to leave to respond to a call - James did note, however, that they went back to finish the party.

A number of James' colleagues, past and present, have weighed in to congratulate him on his many years of service.

Rob Malpas, a former station officer with the West Bay team, said: "James was always the joker of the team and loved a good party, but was a fantastic coastguard and great to have by your side during difficult times. The standout shout for me was having James on the beach when I entered the sea to attempt a rescue at Freshwater. His knowledge of the sea, tides and boats is a great asset to the coastguards and I am glad to say that he is a great friend and always will be."

Jamie Staple said: "I first met James when he was a Cub Scout and he was, to say the least, a live-wire. Many years later when he volunteered to become a coastguard, several of the team, including myself, had reservations. We were, however, totally wrong. James became a valued member of the team with his ‘can do’ attitude and his stubborn streak that quickly morphed into tenacity made him a pleasure to work with."

Mark Collins, West Bay Coastguard's station officer, said: "I have been James’s station officer for approximately ten years and his experience, knowledge and loyalty have been invaluable during some very challenging emergency callouts. You can always rely on James to provide good judgement and have your back when making crucial decisions. We have shared good times, we have shared bad times, but everything is a life easier when James is by your side."

With regards to anyone considering joining the coastguard, James said: "It’s a great thing to be involved in but you have to be able to commit the time it deserves. Come into it with an open mind, be calm, collected and listen to what the more experienced members are telling you. Don’t come in and try to change it straight away just find your feet first."