Belfast Telegraph

The love boat... RNLI's Gary proposes to partner with help of rescue launch pals

By Victoria Leonard

An RNLI volunteer has set the bar high for anyone planning a memorable wedding proposal after enlisting the help of his lifeboat and crew.

Gary Hanna, who has volunteered at Larne lifeboat station for nearly two years, surprised girlfriend Nichola Fleet during what she thought would be a leisurely Sunday stroll on the beach.

However, during the walk the couple were joined by the Larne lifeboat complete with crew shooting flares and a large banner bearing the words: 'Will you marry me Nichola? Say yes, from Larne station'.

The couple, who have been together for 16 months after meeting online, are now planning to tie the knot in Longeveau, France, in 2019.

"I had no idea that he was planning anything," the bride-to-be told the Belfast Telegraph.

"My mum and dad came for Sunday lunch and said they wanted to go for a walk and an ice cream on Ballygally beach afterwards.

"We went down to the beach and Gary was skimming stones for ages, and I thought: 'Flip how long is he going to stand skimming stones for?'

"Then we saw the lifeboat and even then I didn't twig. When it turned round I saw the banner and I had to read it three times. I didn't think he was as romantic as that!"

Video of the heart-warming gesture shows the crew setting off flares as Gary gets down on one knee.

He then slips the white gold and square cut diamond ring onto Nichola's finger to cheers from his watching colleagues and people nearby.

"Gary would be very thoughtful but he's not normally one for big romantic gestures and I don't normally like surprises," said Nichola, who works as a receptionist at Belfast's Avoniel Leisure Centre.

"I later found out that he had asked my dad for permission on the boat a couple of weeks earlier, and my mum and sister had helped him choose the ring. I didn't know about any of it.

"But I couldn't be happier. He has definitely earned a lot of brownie points."

Meanwhile, Nichola's resourceful husband-to-be is just relieved that his unique proposal went off without a hitch.

"I had asked the coxswain and the station mechanic if it would be possible to use the boat and then they worked their magic," said Gary, who works in his family's plant nursery business. "Everyone at the RNLI was so supportive - we are like a family at the station.

"I told Nichola that the boat was out that day but I wasn't going as I had invited her mum and dad down for Sunday dinner. I told them to ask to go for an ice cream at Ballygally for dessert.

"Then the boat came up and turned around, and when she saw it she was shocked.

"Both sets of parents were there and they let out a cheer.

"We are going to France in September, and I think she thought that I was going to propose then, but I couldn't let her wait that long."

And Gary has a tip for grooms planning an unforgettable proposal.

"Plan ahead. Then hopefully everything will work out on the day," he advised.

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