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My job helps save lives

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of RNLI people do not come from maritime backgrounds. In fact, our lifeboat volunteers come from all walks of life. What all our people have in common though, is a willingness to help others and learn new skills. 

There are so many ways to help save lives. So, whether you have a passion to pull people out of the water or would rather stay firmly on land raising funds or educating others, you absolutely have what it takes. You’re bound to have transferable skills too. Very often, people with seemingly unrelated knowledge or experience can apply it to RNLI volunteering in ways they would never have imagined. 

And it’s not all one-way traffic.

Holyhead Crew Member Beth Wilkinson

Photo: Holyhead RNLI

Holyhead Crew Member Beth Wilkinson

Beth Wilkinson has been a crew member at Holyhead for around 6 years. She’s also a cadet in the merchant navy and one exam away from qualifying as deck officer. But she believes it’s the experience she picked up in earlier careers that helped her become an effective lifesaver.

‘I used to work in horse racing, working for different trainers around the world,’ she says. ‘I’d take the horses out, race them, groom them, do first aid. You have to keep them calm and carry on no matter what the weather’s doing. That taught me how to work in extreme highs and lows.’ 

Beth moved to Holyhead to become a watersports trainer. ‘The lifeboat was literally next door to me,’ she says. ‘I wanted to give something back to the community, so I went to the station one day and never really left. My training background was really useful in helping new lifeboat recruits learn the ropes. And when I’m on a rescue to, say, a kayaker – my watersports knowledge gives me a good idea of how that casualty is feeling, how they got into that situation and how we can get them out of it.’ 

 Beth also worked in the merchant navy
Beth also worked in the merchant navy

Later, in the merchant navy, Beth studied navigation to a high level and learned all about keeping ships and people safe. ‘There are so many tricks of the trade I put back into lifeboating,’ she says. ‘And my RNLI experience feeds back into the day job. When an emergency happens onboard my ship, I feel my RNLI training kick in and it gives me a calmer, steadier approach.

Heather, a first aid instructor and former zookeeper and nurse, says she wasn’t a boaty person before joining her local RNLI crew. ‘People have this perception that you need to be a fisherman or to have been on the water,’ she says. ‘But, actually, people with no experience in that area can be at an advantage because they are a blank canvas for training.

‘The RNLI gives excellent casualty care training but my years of first aid experience certainly help – like being able to recognise when someone is poorly or in shock. Even my experience as a zookeeper helped save a life.’

Heather remembers when the crew were called to a woman stuck in the mud. ‘She got stuck in mud for a while,’ says Heather. ‘She couldn’t move at all, but was sorry that we’d come out to her and were covered in mud. We ended up chatting about how the mud smells. I said that, as a zookeeper, I usually smell a lot worse from being covered in monkey poo! That gave us something to talk about. And, after chatting for 20 minutes, we managed to bring her back to safety.’

A range of skills

There’s a huge breadth of experience and knowledge among crews, and everyone has something different to bring to the table. Like Natalie Wilkinson, a Crew Member at Fowey, whose language skills came in handy during a late-night shout. The crew were called to a French fishing boat that had broken down in rough seas west of Fowey. Natalie was able to speak to the trawler crew in French which made their rescue easier. 

Lifesaving Training Manager Alex Evans says: ’Never think you haven’t got what it takes to be an RNLI volunteer. We provide the best training and equipment to turn ordinary people into extraordinary lifesavers. We teach you how to look after yourself, your crew mates, how to work a lifeboat and how to rescue people. That can bring positive spin-offs to other parts of your life too. For instance, learning casualty care can help you look after your family and friends. And I’ve seen people coming out of their shells, even getting promotions at work, after joining the crew. It can be a massive confidence booster.

Lifesaving Training Manager Alex Evans

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Lifesaving Training Manager Alex Evans

‘There are so many other volunteer roles at stations like station managers, admin officers, visits coordinators, press officers, tractor drivers. These people really are the unsung heroes and many stations are crying out for more of them.’

It’s not just about being a crew member or based at a lifeboat station though. Whatever your passion, there’s a volunteering role for you. Here are a few examples:

Joy Worsely, Fundraising Volunteer

Ten years ago, I was working as a magician’s assistant on a cruise ship. That’s where I met my husband, Oz. He’s from Perth and he crossed the pond to be with me. Oz joined New Brighton lifeboat crew and I now help out at the station too. Because I work in events, I helped to make a recent Christmas party a big success. The magician I knew from the cruise ship came to do the entertainment and my friend sang at the event with her band. It was a brilliant night.’

Gwyn Jackson, former RNLI Museum Volunteer 

Until last year, Gwyn was a volunteer at the RNLI’s Grace Darling Museum. Using her skills as a former teacher, Gwyn brought the museum collections to life for young visitors. Speaking about her time as a volunteer, she says: ‘I enjoy educating children. Here, they’re usually aged 7–11 and come to learn about the Victorians. A real highlight was meeting two visitors descended from the crew Grace and her father saved.’

Gwyn Jackson, RNLI Museum Volunteer

Photo: Adrian Don

Gwyn Jackson, RNLI Museum Volunteer 

Walter Lee, Youth Education Volunteer 

Part of Walter’s volunteer role is presenting at schools and youth groups, igniting young people’s interest in the RNLI and giving advice on how to stay safe near the water. ‘You need the ability to communicate and interact at the kids’ level,’ he says. ‘My background is in engineering, but I did peer group tutoring and project management at work which has helped a lot in my volunteer role. But we all receive appropriate training from the RNLI.’ 

You can do it too

Still undecided? Here’s a final word from Heather, our Crew Member at Littlestone-on-Sea: ‘I’d recommend being an RNLI volunteer to anyone. Go give it a try! There’s plenty of exciting stuff you can help with. Just being part of a close-knit team is great. And once you’re involved, it’s like being part of a big family.’

Want to know more? Find answers to our most frequently asked questions about volunteering or contact our friendly team.