Obituary: Richard Allen, longest serving editor of SAS

Richard Allen, the longest serving editor of Safety at Sea, passed away 12 April 2019. The 11-year period he spent as editor, spanning from 1981 to 1992, was one of innovative change for the magazine.  The decade was also defined by some of the most influential maritime disasters of modern times.

Born in Gloucester in 1938, during his teens he was a keen member of the Air Training Corps through which he had the opportunity to travel to Egypt, an experience he often spoke of to his children. He was unable to fulfil his ambition to join the RAF due to a failed hearing test and so studied to train as a marine engineer at Swansea Tech, thanks to a BP apprenticeship scheme.

During his time at BP, he met his wife Una while docked in the river Clyde in Glasgow and would hitchhike from Gloucester to Glasgow to see her. They married in August 1962 and lived in Glasgow.

In 1966 Allen started his journalistic career with a position at the Nautical Institute, followed by Redhill and then Safety at Sea (SAS).

As a former third engineer, his passion for testing out marine equipment that would feature in the magazine would often surprise manufacturers. For example, on a visit to a company that produced survival suits, he insisted on personally validating their claim that they were indeed ‘leak proof’ and asked to be immerse in one while still wearing his business suit. Luckily for Richard and the company, the claim proved true.

Further, his commitment to investigating and promoting quality equipment to shipowners and crew led to the launch of SAS’s own exhibition and conference focused on safety equipment and electronics. With a first run in embryonic form in London in 1984, followed by the launch of the first formal event in 1986 “we decided to go ahead with what then became SAS Marine Exhibition (SASMEX)” he said. SASMEX ran on long after Allen left the editorship and the exhibits were well received in the shipping industry.

Later in the decade, Allen’s insistence on equipment testing brought the magazine to the forefront of maritime news. “One of the things I tested was a marine evacuation slide,” Allen recalled. “I did a drop in one of those and wrote about it, and the piece I wrote was quoted during the inquiry into the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster.” The Piper Alpha disaster was one of many incidents that would define both the decade as well as the future of maritime safety. Along with the 1987 capsize of the Herald of Free Enterprise and the 1989 oil spill of the Exxon Valdez, the incidents featured prominently with Richard Allen leading the safety commentary of the magazine.

His expert opinion was called upon by news channels, one such interview on the Harwich Ferry disaster for Channel 4 News was carried out by Peter Sissons. The recording was on Betamax tape for several years until the family finally converted to VHS.

Allen had a strong affinity with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), and visited the Poole HQ on many times. On one such occasion, whilst conducting an interview for SAS, he brought his daughter Isobel along and left her in the care of a gentleman who taught her how to make various knots, an experience she treasured greatly. This led to her drawing a picture at school of a crew member and a lifeboat, which then featured in a special edition of SAS that celebrated the incredible work of the RNLI.

In the later years, despite strong encouragement from his children to enjoy his retirement, Allen continued to proof read and contribute to articles long after leaving the constraints of full time employment. Following a fall, which led to a long period of recovery, Richard decided to finally step down from all but the occasional consultancy work. He then devoted his time to caring for Una, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, until she passed away in 2015.

Richard Allen passed away peacefully on Friday 12 of April, he is survived by his son Andrew and daughter Isobel.

The team at SAS is keen to continue his legacy of unwavering commitment to safety and dedication to preserving lives at sea. We would like to draw readers’ attention to the fund being set up in his memory for the RNLI. For more details click here.