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Oscar Charlie: From Royal Mail van to RNLI lifeboat

After Jared Colclough was rescued by Exmouth RNLI, he wanted to repay them for saving his life. Now he tours the UK with Oscar Charlie, a van he converted to look like an RNLI lifeboat, with the aim of raising £5,000.

Jared Colclough’s van, Oscar Charlie, painted to look like an RNLI lifeboat

Photo: Jared Colclough

On a sunny day in April 2015, Jared took two friends and his 13-year-old cousin for a trip in his speedboat, Dieter. An hour and a half into the journey, Dieter started developing engine problems. And then the engine cut out. 

Feeling more inconvenienced than worried, Jared called the Coastguard to ask for assistance. He remembers: ’While I was on the call, my friend said: “There’s lot of water back here”’. Realising the boat was taking on water fast, Jared upgraded the call to a mayday. 

‘The battery was submerged and the bilge pump wasn’t working,’ he recalls. ‘We were bailing as much as we could but after 10–12 minutes, the boat went.’ 

The four of them ended up in the water. ‘I stayed on the phone with the Coastguard for 10 more minutes, until my phone got soaked and stopped working.’ 

‘Would they be able to find us?’

Jared says: ‘I didn’t have GPS. They’d be looking for us based on a rough description. Had I told them enough? Would they be able to find us?’ 

They weren’t wearing lifejackets and the water was just 8°C. ‘My cousin had my buoyancy aid on but it was far too big for him,’ adds Jared. ‘We were getting really cold and my friend Richard couldn’t swim. He was holding onto some woodwork to keep afloat. My cousin was panicking, so my other friend was looking after him. I spent most of the time swimming after Richard to pull him back.’

Exmouth’s Shannon class lifeboat, R and J Welburn

Photo: Nicholas Leach

‘That orange and blue angel’

After nearly 30 minutes in the water, the four of them saw Exmouth’s Shannon class lifeboat R and J Welburn. Jared recalls that moment: ‘The sight of that orange and blue angel cresting the waves is a memory that will last a lifetime. We were plucked from the water and wrapped up on deck in no time. They were a truly professional team.’

Taking a boat out? Get the RNLI’s advice on sailing and motorboating safely here.

Exmouth crew try to recover the sunken speedboat

Photo: RNLI/Tim Barnes

‘I wanted to give back’

After the four were back on dry land, the crew went back to recover what was left of Jared’s boat. ‘I knew the lifeboat was out for a long time. A lot of money was spent on us,’ he says. He felt determined to repay the crew’s hard work: ‘Straight away, I picked up a collection pot for my taxi. I wanted to do something to give back.’

The idea for Oscar Charlie came a few months later. ‘I was in a tent at a festival,’ remembers Jared. ‘I was muddy, dirty and wet, and thought: “That’s enough, I’m getting a camper van.”’

Jared bought an LDV Convoy van, intending to convert it into a camper van for himself. Then he had an idea: ’I thought: “Why don’t I paint it orange and blue for the RNLI?”’

He named the van RNLB Oscar Charlie, due to the letters in its number plate.

Oscar Charlie before it was painted blue and orange

Photo: Jared Colclough

Work begins to tidy up dents, scratches and large paint chips and provide a flat, clean surface for new paint

‘It had a lot of holes cut in it’

Jared got permission from the RNLI to use our colours and logo, and set about getting the van kitted out and painted. ‘From March until June, I spent every day doing something to it,’ he remembers.

’It was a Royal Mail van, gutted inside with two rear windows – and I converted it from the floor up. I insulated it, and added cladding and electrics. I also added solar panels to the roof so if we’re at a festival without power, we can run off-grid. There’s also a working gas stove, two bench seats that convert into a double bed, extra windows, and an awning – which forms part of the stand we use at shows.’ 

Oscar Charlie’s interior conversion

Photo: Jared Colclough

A photograph from the interior conversion. The overhead shelf has been built in, with the fridge house and seat bases done, and the overhead locker nearly finished.

‘It had a lot of holes cut in it,’ Jared jokes. By June, the van had been converted inside, and painted orange and blue. By August, the graphics were done and Oscar Charlie was ready to go. 

‘I did everything myself, except the gas lines,’ says Jared. ‘I watched YouTube videos and tutorials online to work out what I needed to do – from woodwork to electrics to fitting new windows. My friends and family helped too, we had painting parties – everyone picked up a paintbrush.

‘This was all done outside my Mum’s house. She had very understanding neighbours! To this day, there’s still orange paint outside.’

Oscar Charlie alongside Exmouth’s Shannon class lifeboat, R and J Welburn

Photo: Jared Colclough

Oscar Charlie sits alongside Exmouth’s Shannon class lifeboat, R and J Welburn

‘No amount of money can ever repay the RNLI’

Since August 2016, Jared has been using Oscar Charlie to raise funds and awareness for the RNLI at events in Devon and Somerset. He visits stations and works with them on community events, open days and school visits. Jared says: ’I get a few tables set up in front of the awning and stand there speaking to the public. I answer questions about what we do and how we fund it. We’ve got old kit to try on. And we give away freebies like stickers and keyrings.’ 

Jared’s putting extra effort into his fundraising in 2018, as he was pretty busy last year with a newborn baby to take care of – something he always remembered would not have happened had Exmouth lifeboat crew not been there that day.

‘No amount of money raised can repay the RNLI for giving us back the rest of our lives,’ says Jared. ‘However, my target will go some way towards that and perhaps help save other lives.

Every year, on the anniversary of his rescue, Jared returns to Exmouth Lifeboat Station to donate the funds he’s raised. In his first year, he collected £170. Now, including the collection pot in his taxi, he’s raised around £2,500. If you’d like to help Jared reach his £5,000 target, please visit his JustGiving page.