I FEEL obliged to respond to a letter from David Bickford of Fleet regarding the withdrawal of the SAR Helicopter from Portland and his suggested method of raising money to fund the service.

Mr Bickford apparently advocates raising money by taxing private boat owners in council and private marinas. I would be interested to know his reasons for singling out this particular group whilst ignoring other leisure and professional inshore and offshore mariners as well as fishermen, swimmers, canoeists, wind-surfers, jet-ski riders, kite-boarders,divers, climbers and users of coastal paths, all of whom may require emergency assistance from the helicopter on this busy part of the coast.

I presume the reason is that leisure boaters with marina berths are perceived to have more money than other groups and should therefore pay. It surely can’t be because they are inherently less safe on the water.

In my experience as a skipper of yachts large and small for over forty years, it is the RNLI that generally responds to craft in distress in coastal waters unless there is imminent danger of loss of life. Should we then tax boat owners to fund the RNLI? Most boat owners I know donate to the organisation as a matter of course.

I think that the real question to be asked is whether this country should expect government to fund a coastguard and rescue service that is fit for purpose rather that endlessly cost-cutting and subsequently relying more and more on voluntary coastguards and fewer aircraft.. I believe that Richard Drax MP was in favour of retaining the Portland SAR station.

I deeply regret the closure of the Portland station and I am fairly sure that lives will be lost as a result. I cannot see how the Solent helicopter, covering as it does the busiest stretch of water in the UK, can cover for the loss of Portland at the busiest times of the year, regardless of claims that new helicopters are faster and can respond more quickly.

Perhaps we should take note of the fact that a diver with the bends was recently rescued (allegedly) by an aircraft from Wales, not the south coast.