RNLI and me: James Cracknell

The athlete, adventurer and TV presenter explains why he respects the water - and the RNLI’s lifesavers.

James Cracknell

Photo: SG Haywood Photography

This Summer you threw your support behind our Respect the Water campaign, but it wasn’t your first brush with the RNLI, was it?

Nope! Back in 2005 Ben Fogle and I came to RNLI College to do the Sea Survival course. It was in preparation for the Atlantic Rowing Race.

I remember being in the survival pool with the wave machine going, bobbing around in a liferaft in the dark and feeling a bit green around the gills afterwards!

Luckily we managed to finish the race without needing to call on that training for real. It was special to experience the same training that the crews go through.

And you turned rescuer yourself last year, when you spotted people in trouble at the beach?

Me and my son were surfing in Devon, when we realised an 11-year-old boy was struggling out of his depth.

His grandfather had started wading in to help him. So I swam out and pulled the boy to safety. Meanwhile, the grandfather started to get into difficulty too - but my son Croyde paddled over on his surfboard and the man grabbed hold of it.

I was really proud of Croyde for helping the man back to shore. I wondered if he’d be a bit shocked by it all but he was very calm.

Did that experience have an effect on how you view what the water’s capable of?

To me it really brought it home that no two square metres of water are the same, and that people don’t all understand the tides, rip currents and so on - it’s not like a swimming pool.

And when I found out that 2015 was a 5-year high in deaths around our shores, I wanted to give my time to the Respect the Water campaign.

We clearly need to get better at understanding the dangers - not just of swimming, boating and so on, but just being near the water - because over half of those people didn’t even plan to get wet.

I’m glad the RNLI is working hard to get the message over to those most at risk: adult men.

I know what it’s like to take risks. You feel fit, you enjoy the adrenaline, but actually you are no more immune than anyone else.

Currents can be faster than [Olympic swimmer] Michael Phelps - and you’re never going to outswim him!

And if people do get into trouble, it's good to know we have lifesavers on hand too?

Absolutely - that experience on the beach made me appreciate what the rescuers do all the time.

Because the RNLI is an emergency service, people assume it’s state funded like the police or fire service. That’s testament to how professional the lifesavers are. But, of course, it’s a charity that relies on volunteers - and that is what makes it a particularly special organisation.

James's favourite ...

Coastal destination

Cape Town - it’s an unusual, beautiful place where the Atlantic meets the Pacific. Where else can you see ostriches and penguins on the beach?

Post-challenge treat

A proper toilet. When you’ve been in the snow or at sea for a long time, you look forward to simple comforts.

Way to unwind

I love going to places with the family where you don’t get interrupted. At sea you’re just an insignificant dot - which can be liberating.

About James

When he retired from competitive rowing in 2006, James Cracknell OBE had two Olympic Gold Medals and six World Championship titles under his belt.

In the same year, he and TV presenter/adventurer Ben Fogle completed a rowing race across the Atlantic.

Since then, he’s forged a career as a TV presenter, newspaper columnist and adventurer.

James’s other challenges have included a cycle, run, row and swim from LA to New York.

It was during this trip that he suffered a near-fatal accident after being struck from behind by a truck while cycling through Arizona.

After a difficult 6-month recovery period, James completed the Canadian Yukon Coldest Race on Earth.

This Summer he was interviewed by press and broadcasters on his support for the RNLI’s Respect the Water safety campaign.

About Respect the Water

Respect the Water is at the heart of our prevention work, which is aimed at promoting safety advice to all who visit the coast, from walkers and beachgoers to watersport enthusiasts and commercial fishermen.

We want you to enjoy the water, but we also want you to recognise its dangers and never underestimate its power.

How you can help

Treat water with respect. It’s easier than you think to get into trouble in the water.

Take our challenge. You fall into the water. Do you know what to do?

Understand the risks. Know how you can avoid getting into trouble in the water and what to do if you or someone else does.

Share the campaign. Watch our videos, and help others stay safe by spreading our safety messages. #RespectTheWater