• Skip to content
  • Cookies
  • College
  • Shop
  • Respect the water
  • Education
  • News Centre
  • Recruitment
  • Contact us
Content anchor

Lifeboat crew

Youghal crew member Elizabeth Neville at the helm of the Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat Patricia Jennings B-780, crew member John Goggin behind.

Ordinary people doing an extraordinary job.

Most lifeboat crew members are volunteers, who come from all walks of life and give up their time and comfort to save lives at sea.

They respond at a moment's notice when the pagers go off. Crews are regularly called away from their families, their beds and their work, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their lifesaving work is essential, often difficult and sometimes dangerous.

Coxswain

The coxswain is in charge of the all-weather lifeboat and is in command when at sea.

He/she is responsible for all the operations connected with launching the lifeboat, ensuring the safety of all the lifeboat crew onboard.

It is the coxswain's duty to do all he/she can to safeguard and rescue those in danger. At the end of a rescue, the coxswain ensures that the lifeboat is ready for service and that the equipment is all in order.

Most coxswains are volunteers, although there are a few full-time paid coxswains. 

Mechanic

Every all-weather lifeboat station has a full-time mechanic, who is responsible for maintaining the lifeboat’s engines and all the machinery at an all-weather lifeboat station.

At sea, the mechanic checks that the engines and other machinery are all working properly, as well as being part of the crew.

At stations that just have inshore lifeboats, volunteer mechanics make sure the lifeboat are ready for service through correct operation, maintenance and repair. 

Helm

The helm is a volunteer who is in charge of the inshore lifeboat during launching, at sea and when she is being recovered and made ready for the next rescue.

The helm is responsible for the safety of the crew on board and for everything that happens during a rescue.​

Hovercraft commander

RNLI hovercraft are used to carry out rescues on mud, sand and shallow water, making them particularly useful on estuaries and tidal mudflats.

The hovercraft commander is a volunteer who is in charge of the hovercraft during launching, when on service and also at the end of a rescue when the hovercraft is being recovered to make sure it is ready for the next rescue.

The duties of a commander are the same as for a helm at an inshore lifeboat station. ​

Crew members

Volunteer lifeboat crew members from all walks of life work with the coxswain or helm to operate the lifeboat during rescues and to ensure the safety of rescuees.

As well as going out on rescues, lifeboat crew members also commit to regular training in boathandling, radio communications, casualty care, navigation and radar.

The RNLI has 4,600 volunteer crew members around the UK and the RoI, 8% of whom are women.

Could you be part of a lifeboat crew?