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Lifeboat women: Sam Armatage from Teddington RNLI

Teddington Crew Member Julia Kendal wanted to know how other women had become lifeboat volunteers – so she started asking them. This is the first of four stories about the women who crew lifeboats across the UK and Ireland. 

Sam Armatage from Teddington Lifeboat Station

Photo: Paul Roach

Sam Armatage, Crew Member at Teddington Lifeboat Station

It had never occurred to me that I might become a lifeboat crew member. But once I was part of the crew, I quickly became fascinated with the origin stories of other volunteers. What led them to join? What keeps them going out when their beds are warm and the night is unknown?

I was particularly curious about the other women, who now make up about 11% of lifeboat crew volunteers. So I started to ask them about how they got started, their best shouts, and hopes for the future – sometimes over coffee, often over Skype – crossing the distance from my south-west London flat to the Irish coast or north of Scotland. 

These are some of their stories.

Sam Armatage, Teddington RNLI

First, meet Sam. We volunteer together at Teddington Lifeboat Station, and talked more about it in her garden one sunny afternoon. Family life permeated our time together: chatting with her son at the door, pausing my questions to catch up with her partner, two dogs wrestling at my feet throughout. This seemed appropriate, as family life is a big part of why Sam joined up 3 years ago. 

She had just given birth to her youngest, Emily, and quit her job in charitable fundraising to give her more family time. So when her daughter started school, she started to think about what this new stage of life as a mum of three might look like. 

Boats had been a big part of her childhood, with weekends and summers spent sailing between the Solent, Channel Islands and France. Her parents were big supporters of the RNLI, as is often the case with sailors, taking collections boxes around Teddington. 

‘My parents are no longer around, so it’s quite nice to do something they’d approve of,’ says Sam.

Sam grew up in the area but was living in Cornwall when Teddington Lifeboat Station was established in 2002. So, when she started to consider volunteering, the RNLI wasn’t her first thought. That is, until she read an article in the local paper by a female crew member. She decided to find out more. 

Sam is a lifeboat crew member on the Thames

Photo: RNLI/Harrison Bates

Sam is a lifeboat crew member on the Thames

Teddington was recruiting for new volunteers, so it wasn’t long before she was turning up to weekly training on a Tuesday and navigating her way through the crew handbook and online learning. The training seemed a lot but after 3 years, Sam passed the 47 modules required to become fully qualified crew on the Thames – a huge achievement.

And she’s enjoying having something for herself. When Sam first joined, she planned to stick to volunteering during school hours. But the lifeboat has a way of creeping up on you. Before long, you find yourself signing up to cover nights and helping out at open days. Sam ran out of her birthday lunch last year to join a search, cycling along the shoreline to help spot two missing girls (who were found safe and sound). 

She’s also become particularly involved in the casualty care side of things. Volunteering isn’t just something she does for herself. Sam says: ‘It’s a useful skill to have. You meet people and think: “I can help with that”. You know that you can make a difference.’

This was the case one day when Sam walking to a nail appointment in Teddington High Street. A woman had fallen while running for the bus and cut her head. There were several people crowded around her, but it was Sam who had the knowledge and experience to treat the woman when she was in shock. 

All this experience and training has given her the confidence and capability to start volunteering as a first aider at events across London – along with fellow crew member Tim.

I ask Sam what her kids think of it all. 

‘They’re impressed. Louis always wants me to be careful on the boat. And Ashley talks about how he’d like to do it too.’

And Emily? 

‘She’s proud of her mum. I think it’s really important for her to see that I’m doing something positive. Sometimes I ask her if she’s going to join, and she just answers coyly: “might do”.’ 

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