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The RNLI and me: Sir Robin Knox-Johnston

A loyal RNLI supporter, sailing legend Sir Robin reflects on how he stays safe at sea.

Sailing legend Robin Knox-Johnston


Robin Knox-Johnston, sailing legend

How have you relied on the RNLI throughout your years of sailing?

The RNLI operates around the UK and Ireland, whereas most of my sailing has been further afield in deep sea. But, like everyone else, I am a supporter (and was on the RNLI Council for almost 40 years) and thankfully I’ve never had to call them out. It’s just always reassuring to know they’re there if anything were to happen.

You became the first person to sail around the world single-handed, without stopping in 1969. There are obvious differences, but are there any similarities between sailing with technology and sailing without it?

Whether you’re sailing with – or without – modern technology, the sea remains the same. The underlying seamanship required to navigate the world’s oceans has not changed but, with modern technology, we have more opportunity to sail safe and fast. 

The real difference is satellites. We had very dodgy communications in 1969 with no weather information and no ability to yell for help if things went wrong.

What do you recommend to always carry with you onboard to help keep you safe while sailing, even if your boat has the technology for it?

I’d recommend to always carry navigation charts, a very high frequency (VHF) radio, and a good tool kit in case of an emergency. Also take an Automatic Identification System (AIS) which will display other vessels in the area – your own boat will also display on the screens of other vessels carrying an AIS. It’s good to know when, and where, there are others around you.

Before the pandemic, you went to Australia to meet the fleet taking part in this year’s Clipper Round the World Yacht Race – can you tell us what this challenge involves?

This is the 12th edition of the Clipper Race which started in London in September 2019. It’s a 40,000 nautical mile around-the-world yacht race between 11 teams. I went to Perth, Australia, to attend the Fremantle stopover where the teams arrived from Cape Town in South Africa. The race is now postponed, with three legs remaining, but it’ll be back.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, sailing


Sir Robin’s favourite things:

Coastal spot?

Newtown Creek, Isle of Wight.


Other than sailing, it’s diving.

Childhood memory?

Seeing big American trucks full of soldiers before the Normandy Landings in 1944.

About Sir Robin Knox-Johnston

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is a British sailor who made history in 1969 by becoming the first person to sail single-handed, and without stopping, around the world as part of the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. In 1996, he founded the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race to allow more people to have the opportunity to race around the world – with no sailing experience necessary. Over the past 21 years, almost 5,000 people have taken on his challenge.