Mums on the crew
Three RNLI crew members talk about how motherhood has played a role in their volunteering.
Being a lifeboat volunteer means giving up a lot of your time. There are all the training exercises and operational meetings, as well as the open days and fundraising activities that form a vital part of life at the station. And that’s before the shouts themselves, where you have to drop everything to run to someone’s rescue.
It can be a tough balancing act – especially when you add things like work and family life into the equation. So, this Mother’s Day, we’d like you to meet three women who juggle the responsibilities of being a mum and keeping our coasts safe.
All mums are heroes – but we think these women deserve an extra loud cheer.
Louise, Anstruther Lifeboat Station
‘As a working mum, I plan most of my days around my children. This is no different when a lifeboat shout comes in,’ says Louise Whiteman, a crew member at Anstruther Lifeboat Station. As well as being a mum to Charlie (8) and Isla (14), Louise works as an undertaker and has her own cake baking business. Balancing the different aspects of her life can be a challenge.
‘I never know when the pager might go off, so I’m very fortunate to have my own mother, Cath, close by to help. She's a local lass, whose own father and brother both volunteered at Anstruther for many years, so she is well aware of the commitment required.
‘If there is a shout in the middle of the night, Isla knows the routine of calling her Gran Cath and shouting “lifeboat” down the line. She's in the drive by the time I’m in my car. This system has been in place for over 3 years and it’s what you could call a smooth operation in my household. It’s not uncommon for the pager to go off at the time of the school run either. Again, this requires a quick call to my own lifeline, my mum, and she is always ready to swing by and collect the kids.
‘Mum will get my house in order and the kids to their clubs, making sure everything is organised for when I come home. She is always there, without complaint. Without the support of my mother and family, I couldn’t be a lifeboat crew volunteer. I’m ever so grateful and thankful for everything she does.
‘All that I am and hope to be, I owe to my mum. She is my rock, and the woman I have always looked up to. She is my hero and, without her, I wouldn’t be able to be someone else’s when the pager goes off.’
Sile, Ballycotton Lifeboat Station
‘I practically grew up in the lifeboat house!’ says Sile Scanlon, Crew Member at Ballycotton Lifeboat Station. ‘When the pager used to go, my mam would bring me to the boathouse and find someone down there who would mind me while the boat was out.’
Sile joined the lifeboat crew 3½ years ago when she turned 17. Her mum, Moira, has been a volunteer for 15 years and is one of the mechanics on Ballycotton’s Trent class lifeboat. ‘Mam was a huge influence in me joining the crew. Growing up, I always heard people commending her on being female and being on the crew. Seeing her on the boat, holding her own with all the lads, I knew it was always going to be for me. I absolutely adore volunteering!
‘My most memorable shout must have been when my mum rescued me! About 5 years ago, I was kayaking locally with a group of friends. We had gone to an offshore lighthouse about 2 miles from shore and spent several hours there.
'The weather and tides and we found ourselves caught out on the island. We tried to make it ashore but decided the safer option was to double back and call for help. The shout went to my uncle who is coxswain and my mum who was mechanic that day. We all know the sea and we knew when we were out of our depth, so to speak. I don’t know who was more emotional that day, myself or my mom!
‘We can be in very volatile situations at times so it’s great to know she is there for me, like everyone else. We have four girls on the crew at the so we always look out for each other!’
Lisa, Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Lifeboat Station
‘I have been involved for almost 3 years and it has firmly become a part of my life,’ says Lisa Amer, Crew Member at Great Yarmouth and Gorleston. ‘Living with a pager is a strange experience and my girls, Pearl (11) and Eden (15), have adapted well to the "beep". They often dash round, finding me socks or my keys, and shouting goodbye as I run out the door.
‘The pager seems to have an uncanny knack of sounding just before and I often find my eldest taking over cooking the tea as I leave. They have grasped the importance of being on call and show great maturity, but I do remember one evening when, no sooner had we all headed to bed, the pager went and a little voice called out: “I hate lifeboats!”’
‘There are days when I feel weighed down with life, as we all do. I’m a single mum and sometimes, after being at work, looking after my children, home and dogs, I really motivate myself to get down to the station and train in the wind and rain.
But I can be sure it’s always worth the effort. My crew are a great support and make me laugh. Being on the boat is like no other time in life. You’re in the moment, out in the elements with people you rely on, concentrating on the task.
‘ I don’t have a mum anymore. I lost her to leukaemia almost 19 years ago, so she doesn’t know about my time with the RNLI. I don’t think she’d be surprised. She loved the sea and taught herself to swim off the beach in Southend-on-Sea where she grew up. Mum’s family are all sea lovers too, enjoying , so maybe there’s something in the blood? I am sure she would understand the importance of the RNLI and that I like to feel I am a small part of something big.’
A letter to mum
Thank you for making me the determined, if not slightly stubborn, person I am. You were a terrific role model, kind and hardworking, and have given me the work ethic I need to make commitments, try hard and see things through.
I always try to be as positive and smiley as you were. I think you would approve of my role and be glad to know that I have the support of my RNLI family.
I miss you often and know you would appreciate the seas and skies that we get to experience on the boat. For the most part, the sea is a wonder.
I’m glad you encouraged me to try things, dare myself and that you believed in me. Like you, I have insisted that my children learn to swim, a I’m glad you gave me.
Mums and lifeboats
Selfless. Courageous. Dependable. Trustworthy. These are the RNLI’s core values. But we think they describe mums pretty well too. Sile, Louise, Lisa and countless other crew member mums help ensure that when the call to rescue comes in, there is someone to answer it. Even if that means dropping everything to do so. Here's to the mothers of the RNLI - thank you!
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