Meet Kim - the mermaid saving lives in Portsmouth

As a child, Kim Dugan wanted to be a mermaid. Now that she’s senior lifeguard, crew member and one of the stars of Saving Lives at Sea, Kim’s practically living the dream.

RNLI lifeguard Kim Dugan on duty

Photo: RNLI/Andy Parish

What drew you to the RNLI?

I’ve grown up around it all. I have always lived by the sea, and my Grampy loved fishing, which is probably where I got my love for the ocean from. I still now cannot go a day without being by the water. As a child I always dreamed of being a mermaid!

I’ve been with the RNLI lifeguards at Southsea for 5 years now. I’ve done eight seasons in total, if you include my rookie lifeguard days before the RNLI. So I’ve seen and experienced a lot for someone my age, and everyone says I grew up quite quickly as a result of it.

I joined the Portsmouth lifeboat crew at the beginning of the summer in 2016. I joined the crew I guess because I didn’t really have any real reason not to.

You’re a senior lifeguard and a crew member. But that’s not all. Tell us what else you do for the RNLI?

My job starts a lot earlier than being on the beach rescuing people, it’s all about preventing and educating people too so that they are aware of the dangers and they do not put themselves in a situation in the first place. This year through our Meet the Lifeguards programme we delivered safety talks to thousands of children in schools and on the beach. It could potentially save thousands of lives – which is amazing!

The longer I’ve been doing this, the more passionate I have become about the work the RNLI does. I’ve seen first-hand the impact it has on individuals and how it saves lives. It started off as just a summer job, but the longer I did it, the more I saw how many incidents could be easily prevented through advice and education. I wanted to be part of that.

In Saving Lives at Sea you help treat a man who has capsized and cut his leg. Do you feel pressure when you have to respond to medical emergencies?

I’m sure I speak for every crew member when I say that we do feel pressure. We care a lot about what we do and the outcome. That’s why we train so hard so we can provide the best care when we need to. You’re going to people who are in need of help, so there is a lot of responsibility to make sure you get the help there when they need it most.

We do regular training on station so that we are confident in using different equipment when we need to. And as for lifeguarding we do weekly training during the operational season and regular scenarios to ensure we are ready for whatever is thrown at us.

Our hearts went out to you during Saving Lives at Sea when you told us that, after two call outs, you’d missed your Sunday barbecue. The big question is, did anybody save you any food?

No! We had been at the station for training on Sunday morning anyway and then had to relaunch the lifeboats for the shouts, so by the time we got back to the station it must have been 7 or 8pm and all the food was gone! I was devastated!

So does volunteering scupper your social life?

When I first got involved I had no idea how much it would take over my life. And sometimes it feels like I don’t have a life outside of it.

My friends outside of the RNLI I don’t really think understand the commitment I make to it. If the pager goes off when I am with them, they don’t realise I need to go and I can’t finish my dinner with them! It’s the same with dating, as I struggle to make time for it in my life.

Working as an RNLI Lifeguard, being a full-time university student and being on pager is a busy life!

I still wish I could be a mermaid now! But I love what I do at the RNLI. It’s by far the best thing I’ve ever done, and the people I have met from doing this over the years have changed my life. It’s a social thing for me too - fellow lifeguards and crew mates become your close friends.

Kim and her Portsmouth friends feature in Saving Lives at Sea, a 12-part BBC series on the RNLI’s lifesaving work. Get more stories from the series here.