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The mark of a lifesaver: 9 RNLI-inspired tattoos

Getting a tattoo is a pretty permanent way to show your commitment, dedication or passion for something important in your life. So it’s no surprise that some of our lifesaving volunteers have chosen to have their bodies inked with RNLI-inspired tattoos.

The mark of a lifesaver: 9 RNLI-inspired tattoos

Photo: Anthony Keeling

Martyn Brock, Angle Lifeboat Station

Martyn has been on the crew at Angle Lifeboat Station since November 2014, currently as navigator and training to be a mechanic. His tattoos are a way for him to record important parts of his life. Having spent 10 years sailing out of Milford Haven and worked on the water for most of his life, it’s easy to see how important the sea is to him. ‘I have a maritime sleeve theme on my arm,’ says Martyn, ‘and being a part of the lifeboat is another chapter in my life so I wanted a tattoo to show it.’

Martyn’s tattoo of Angle’s Tamar class lifeboat

Photo: Martyn Brock

Martyn’s tattoo of Angle’s Tamar class lifeboat

The tattoo shows Angle’s Tamar class lifeboat, Mark Mason, and has the date he joined the crew written in Roman numerals beneath (19 November 2014). Not everyone who has seen his tattoo is a fan. ‘Everyone so far has said it’s a nice tattoo apart from my nan - she hates them all!’

Martyn’s full maritime-themed sleeve.

Photo: Martyn Brock

Martyn’s full maritime-themed sleeve

Add the lifeboat tattoo to his full maritime sleeve and it’s an impressive collection of ink. But Martyn’s not finished yet. ‘I want to get “With courage nothing is impossible” on me somewhere,’ says Martyn. ‘Just haven’t decided where yet!’

Ben Thomson, Broughty Ferry Lifeboat Station

Ben has been a crew member at Broughty Ferry Lifeboat Station since March 2013, but his RNLI-themed tattoo is the result his own dramatic rescue 6 months earlier.

When the personal watercraft Ben and his friend Gavin were using broke down, they found themselves drifting further and further out to sea. Having decided to make a swim for it, they found themselves struggling to stay afloat for over 4 hours.

What isn’t mentioned in the video is the song that Ben and Gavin sang to keep their spirits up. ‘My little girl Jessica, who is 5, and Gavin’s little boy Quinn, who’s 3, sing a song to each other where one says “love you lots” and the other says “like jelly tots,”’ Ben told the Daily Record. ‘It’s quite bizarre, but we were singing it to each other because we had to get home to the kids.’

After the rescue, Ben and Gavin got matching tattoos commemorating the date of the rescue, the song they sang, and the RNLI.

Ben’s tattoo of the date of the rescue and the song he sang

Photo: Ben Thomson

Ben’s tattoo of the date of the rescue and the song he sang

Andy Mayo, Chiswick Lifeboat Station

Andy has been an RNLI crew member for over 24 years. Starting in Margate as shore crew, he also volunteered at Dover and Whitstable, before becoming a full-time helm at Chiswick Lifeboat Station.

So it’s fitting that the RNLI tattoo Andy chose is the motto of the institution – With courage, nothing is impossible.

Andy's RNLI motto tattoo

Photo: Andy Mayo

Andy's RNLI motto tattoo

The motto comes from the charity’s founder, Sir William Hilary. In the early 19th century, shipwrecks and drowning were a part of working on the sea, with over 1,800 shipwrecks in a typical year. Sir William set out to change that. And almost 200 years later, it’s volunteers like Andy that help keep our waters safe.

Dan Head, Dungeness Lifeboat Station and Gravesend Lifeboat Station

Tattoos have long been associated with seafaring and sailors. When Captain James Cook and his men returned to Europe from Polynesia in the late 1700s, they brought back stories of the tattooed people they met. In fact, the word ‘tattoo’ comes from the Tahitian word ‘tatau’. Many of Cook’s men came back with tattoos themselves, starting the long association between the sea and getting inked.

This tradition is seen in the ink of Dan Head, crew member at both Dungeness and Gravesend Lifeboat Stations. He chose a tattoo that sums up his experience of being a crew member and working on the sea.

Dan’s tattoo, showing the English Channel where he volunteers.

Photo: Dan Head

Dan’s tattoo, showing the English Channel where he volunteers

‘It’s the one thing I have had that shows my boating experience,’ says Dan. ‘Like my RNLI career, but also my other boating experience like tall ship sailing, motorboating and yachting. All on the English Channel.’

Andrew Hairstens, Wexford Lifeboat Station

Andrew’s RNLI-inspired tattoo pays tribute to the lifesaving community. Andrew is a Crew Member at Wexford Lifeboat Station, and his tattoo shows the station’s D class lifeboat. The helicopter is in tribute to Rescue 116, the Coast Guard helicopter that tragically crashed in 2017.

Andrew’s tattoo of the D class and the Coast Guard helicopter.

Photo: Andrew Hairstens

Andrew’s tattoo of the D class and the Coast Guard helicopter

‘I added the helicopter to the tattoo in memory of the crew of Rescue 116,’ says Andrew. ‘We had done a lot of work with Dara Fitzpatrick, who was the pilot of the helicopter.’

The detailed tattoo took over 3 hours to complete, but it was all worth it for this passionate RNLI man. ‘I absolutely love what I do,’ says Andrew. ‘I am a commis chef. One minute I could be standing behind the carvery serving customers, and within 2 minutes I could be standing in the station facing a completely different challenge. I thrive on that.’

Peter Uprichard, Newcastle Lifeboat Station

‘I got my first tattoo when I was 19,’ says Peter Uprichard, Crew Member and Assistant Mechanic at Newcastle Lifeboat Station in Co Down. ‘Since joining the crew I had always wanted to get something to symbolise the enjoyment and reward I get from volunteering. I just didn’t know what to get.

‘Then one day while cleaning my PPE (personal protective equipment) the penny dropped and I had the idea of the gecko in the helmet and lifejacket. So I took my helmet and lifejacket to my tattooist and he drew up the image.’

Peter’s tattoo featuring the gecko.

Photo: Peter Uprichard

Peter’s tattoo featuring the gecko

Gecko manufacture the helmets our lifeboat crews wear on the lifeboats, and each helmet comes with a vinyl sticker showing the outline of the animal that gives the company its name. Adding the lifejacket and helmet was all Peter’s idea!

Chris Dorman, Larne Lifeboat Station

Chris Dorman has been a volunteer at Larne Lifeboat Station since he turned 17. Having now served for 15 years, he has been D class helm, emergency mechanic and emergency coxswain in his time at the RNLI. But it’s not just his service that is impressive, with his lifeboat tattoo being one of the largest we’ve seen.

Chris’s tattoo of a Trent class lifeboat.

Photo: Chris Dorman

Chris’s tattoo of a Trent class lifeboat

Featuring the RNLI’s motto, Larne’s Trent class lifeboat Dr John McSparran, and his seat number on the lifeboat, it takes up the entire right side of his torso.

Anthony Keeling, Silloth Lifeboat Station

Anthony has been a part of Silloth Lifeboat Station for 7 years. His tattoo shows the station’s B class lifeboat Elaine and Don Wilkinson in action.

Anthony’s tattoo of Silloth’s B class lifeboat.

Photo: Anthony Keeling

Anthony’s tattoo of Silloth’s B class lifeboat

‘I have had a few tattoos, all of which have a special meaning to me. I’ve had this one for about 2½ years,’ says Anthony, ‘After my consultation with my tattoo artist, we decided on the ideal picture to use as reference. It took about 5 hours to do in one sitting.’

The photo Anthony’s tattoo is based upon.

Photo: RNLI

The photo Anthony’s tattoo is based upon

Matt Steeden, Swanage Lifeboat Station

Tattoos are often used as a way to commemorate something important to a person’s family. For Matt Steeden, it means celebrating generations of lifesaving history.

One half of Matt’s nautical sleeve.

Photo: Matt Steeden

One half of Matt’s nautical sleeve

Matt’s family has a long tradition of saving lives with the RNLI. ‘I decided to get the tattoo 5 years ago as part of my full sleeve,’ says Matt. ‘I have a long history of lifeboating in my family with my grandad having been coxswain and also my father.’

Matt himself has spent over 17 years as a volunteer, currently serving as Helm and Assistant Mechanic at Swanage Lifeboat Station. ‘The tattoo is a sign of my commitment to lifesaving and a way of remembering what my family have given to the institution.’

The other side of Matt’s sleeve.

Photo: Matt Steeden

The other side of Matt’s sleeve

The tattoo includes a phrase that is written on RNLI’s medals for gallantry – Let not the deep swallow me up. With three generations having served with the RNLI, it’s a phrase that has served them well so far.

Anthony Schorah, Barmouth Lifeboat Station

Like Matt, Anthony Schorah of Barmouth is part of a family of lifesavers. ‘I've been brought up in the RNLI with my dad being second mechanic at Barmouth and also a relief mechanic around the coast.’

His tattoo celebrates something that all lifeboat crew members will recognise – the hymn Eternal Father Strong To Save.

Anthony’s tattoo of the lifeboat hymn.

Photo: Anthony Schorah

Anthony’s tattoo of the lifeboat hymn

‘I grew up on the harbour in Barmouth and have always been involved in the water, with dinghy sailing, kayaking and wakeboarding,’ says Anthony. ‘As it's the hymn we always sing, it just felt like the right thing to add to my nautical arm piece.’

The verse Anthony has tattooed reads:

‘Eternal Father, strong to save, Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep Its own appointed limits keep; Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!’

Sung at RNLI ceremonies across the UK and Ireland, it’s a hymn whose lyrics have specific significance for the volunteers who give up their time, energy, and, in these cases parts of their body, as they help save lives at sea.

Have these tattoos inspired you to get involved with the RNLI? Find out how you can become a volunteer and help save lives at sea. And don’t worry, you can volunteer with or without a lifeboat tattoo!