Brotherly love: The three siblings saving lives

Meet Charlie, Beau and Tristan, the brothers from Cornwall who followed in each other’s footsteps to become RNLI lifeguards.

The three Gillett brothers on a beach in Cornwall

Photo: RNLI/Jess Putt

L–R: Beau (26), Tristan (22) and Charlie (29) Gillett

The Gillett brothers grew up by the sea in Whitsand Bay and started working with their local lifesaving club when they were young – so it wasn’t a huge surprise that they became lifeguards.

Growing up at the coast and enjoying spending time at the beach and in the sea made this the ideal job for us all,’ says Beau.

Sibling rivalry

Between them, the brothers have dedicated 23 years to the RNLI – Charlie’s lifeguarded for 10 seasons, Beau for 9 and Tristan for 4.

Charlie and Beau are now RNLI lifeguard supervisors, responsible for planning and coordinating lifeguard training and supervising their local lifeguard teams.

Tristan, a senior RNLI lifeguard, makes sure his team of lifeguards operate well as a unit, provides safety advice for those on the beach and in the water, and – like his older brothers – rescues those who find themselves in trouble.

Is there any rivalry between the trio? Not on the beach. But in the pool, the brothers’ competitive side comes out. As part of their training, all RNLI lifeguards must complete timed swims once a month. Tristan says: ‘Charlie is a bit over-the-top at swimming sometimes’.

Beau agrees: ‘I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not going to beat Charlie. But I still beat Tristan!’

Lifeguards taking part in a timed swim

Photo: RNLI/Charlie Gillett

Following the sun, returning home

When they’re not working, the brothers go travelling together. Charlie says: ‘One of the perks of lifeguarding for the RNLI during the summer is the opportunity to go travelling in the winter.’ 

Although they’ve never lifeguarded abroad, it’s something all three are interested in. ‘The RNLI has definitely shaped the way we work,’ says Charlie. ‘The way we’ve been taught to focus on prevention while on patrol has set us up for our career, wherever we go.’ 

Charlie and Beau have lifeguarded around the UK, from Constantine in Cornwall to the Isle of Sheppey off the coast of Kent. Although all three of the brothers left Whitsand Bay at some point, they’ve all returned to where they grew up. 

Charlie, Beau and Tristan on an inshore rescue boat

Photo: RNLI/Jess Putt

‘I jumped in the water straight away’

In their combined 23 years of lifeguarding, the brothers have taken part in many memorable rescues. 

‘A recent one that stands out for me was last year,’ says Beau. ‘Charlie and I were doing a routine patrol at Sharrow Beach in the inshore rescue boat. As we came round Sharrow point, we spotted two young girls drowning.’

‘I jumped in the water straight away,’ remembers Charlie. ‘And helped them into the boat. We took them back to shore as quickly as we could and gave them casualty care. Then the girls were then taken to hospital by ambulance – that rescue was classed as two lives saved.’

Earlier this year, Tristan and Beau worked on a rescue together. Tristan remembers: ‘We were working at Seaton when Beau noticed a stand-up paddleboarder struggling to get back on his board, so he radioed me to go and take a look. When I got there, I realised the man was suffering with cold water shock – so Beau came out and joined me. Between the two of us, we supported him between our boards until Looe’s lifeboat came to help.’ 

Top tips for staying safe on the beach

Charlie says: ‘Tides are responsible for a lot of the rescues we’ve done. Already this year, we’ve had to help a lot of people cut off by the tide around Whitsand Bay. Make sure you visit a lifeguarded beach and check the tide times and conditions before you go.’

RNLI lifeguards, the Gillett brothers, on the beach

Photo: RNLI/Lucy Matthews

Beau adds: ‘There’s also a very dangerous fixed rip current at Sharrow Beach. It’s signposted when the lifeguards are on duty and well away from the designated swimming area on the beach. So, always swim between the red and yellow flags – they mark out the safest place to swim and are covered by the lifeguards.’

‘We’ve also had a couple of rescues this year where people haven’t carried a means of calling for help if they get it trouble,’ says Tristan. ‘But luckily we spotted them in time. Remember to carry a form of communication if you’re going out to sea.’

Becoming a lifeguard

You don’t have to be a member of the Gillett family to become an RNLI lifeguard. All you need is a National Vocational Beach Lifeguard Qualification (NVBLQ) or equivalent. Courses for this qualification run all over the country at different times of the year. 

Charlie, Beau and Tristan also advise getting involved with your local surf lifesaving club and volunteering at your local RNLI lifeguarded beach

Charlie says: ‘We had a volunteer at Tregonhawke this year who put in a couple of shifts over the summer. This puts you in a really good position when applications open next year. Having experience is a massive advantage – we get a lot of applications.’

Tristan adds: ‘Lots of people don’t realise how early applications go live – they open online in January. So, remember to apply!’

The Gillett brothers wearing RNLI wetsuits on the beach

Photo: RNLI/Lucy Matthews

What kind of person does it take to be an RNLI lifeguard? You need to be fit and healthy. RNLI lifeguards must be able to complete:

  • a 400m pool swim in under 7½ minutes – the first 200m of which must be completed in under 3½ minutes
  • a 25m pool swim underwater and a 25m surface swim consecutively in under 50 seconds
  • a 200m beach run in under 40 seconds.

Attitude is important too. Beau says: ‘Dependability, trustworthiness, selflessness and courage are really important. I’ve worked with lots of different lifeguards over the years and it definitely helps to be a team player, willing to learn and confident in your own ability. Being punctual and strong in the water is an advantage too.’ 

Does this sound like your dream summer job? Find out more about becoming an RNLI lifeguard.