2021: Highlights of the year from your RNLI family

Throughout 2021, with your kind support, RNLI people were on a mission to save every one. Here’s a snapshot of some milestones and memories from the year, featuring your brave and determined RNLI family.

Global action on drowning

A Swim Safe instructor teaches a child how to swim, to prevent drowning in a village in Bangladesh

Photo: RNLI/Harrison Bates

World Drowning Prevention Day will highlight the need for urgent action in countries such as Bangladesh

The RNLI won’t stand by when anyone, anywhere, drowns. 

In April there was a big step forward in working together to prevent drowning. The United Nations (UN) adopted a historic resolution on global drowning prevention. The UN Resolution establishes drowning as an important international issue, recognised by all 193 Member States of the UN, and sets out the actions that every country should take to prevent drowning. It’s the first time the UN has acknowledged the issue in its 75-year history. 

The Resolution also establishes the annual World Drowning Prevention Day, which was marked for the first time on 25 July 2021. 

Going the extra mile

Athlete Jake Woods smiles on the race track, training for the 2024 Paralympic Games

Photo: RNLI/Derry Salter

Jake Woods, on a mission to raise RNLI funds and reach the 2024 Paralympic Games

In May, many RNLI people, from toddlers through to octogenarians, joined the RNLI’s annual fundraising event Mayday. Jake Woods went further, taking on a plethora of challenges to help the RNLI raise funds.

After Jake was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma at the age of 27, an aggressive rare bone cancer in his right hip, his life changed drastically. His right leg and half of his pelvis were amputated.

Jake’s incredibly active and motivated, and was an RNLI lifeguard before his diagnosis. He aims to compete in the Paris 2024 Paralympics and has put together a list of challenges such as hill climbs, swims and Tough Mudders, raising money for the RNLI along the way. Jake says: 'Having been a lifeguard for 8 years, I know first-hand the importance of the RNLI’s work. I don't think I'd be the person I am now if it wasn't for the experiences and opportunities I had with the RNLI. I really want to give something back to a charity close to my heart.’

Making history: first female full-time coxswain

Harwich RNLI Full-Time Coxswain Di Bush in lifeboat crew kit

Photo: Harwich RNLI

Trailblazer Di Bush, Full-Time Coxswain at Harwich RNLI

In September, Di Bush became the Full-time Coxswain for Harwich RNLI. Di is the first woman in the charity’s almost 200-year history to hold the position. She’ll command the all-weather lifeboat and lead the team.

Trailblazer Di, a highly qualified mariner, first joined the RNLI in 2003 as a volunteer at Falmouth RNLI in Cornwall and quickly rose through the ranks. It’s not the first time she has made history, as she was the first woman to become an RNLI full-time mechanic in 2017. 

Sharing water safety advice

In summer 2021, with so many people choosing to take their holidays at home, our water safety messages were more important than ever. 

Cork footballer Brian Hurley helped spread the word. Brian joined a host of well-known GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) players who backed the RNLI’s summer water safety campaign by producing their own home video messages with important water safety advice. The videos are part of the partnership between the GAA and the RNLI, where RNLI volunteers have been working with GAA communities locally to share water safety advice. 

Young girl rescued from rip current

RNLI Lifeguard Katie Walker powers through the surf on a rescue board at Coldingham Bay

Photo: RNLI/Nick Mailer

RNLI Lifeguard Katie Walker in action this summer

In just one of our many rescues in 2021, RNLI lifeguard Katie Walker saved a young child swimming outside of the safe swim area, marked by red and yellow flags. The girl became caught in a strong rip current that began pulling her out to sea at Coldingham Bay lifeguarded beach in Berwickshire. Quickly, Katie gathered her rescue board and broke through the surf to reach the child, 50 metres from the beach.

A nearby swimmer, who had spotted the escalating situation, shouted over and instructed the child to remain calm and float on her back. This advice – which you may know from our Float to Live safety message – reassured her enough that she was able to calm down and await Lifeguard Katie, who safely brought her back to shore to her relieved family.

Reaching more people with a new partnership

Three members of the Black Swimming Association float in the RNLI Sea Survival Pool

Photo: RNLI/Justin Smith

Members of the Black Swimming Association in the Sea Survival Pool at the RNLI Support Centre in Poole, Dorset

This year the RNLI started a brand new partnership with the Black Swimming Association (BSA). By working together, we hope to reach as many people as possible of African, Caribbean and Asian heritage in the UK and Ireland with vital water safety messaging, which has been proven to save lives. These communities are known to be particularly at risk of accidental drownings. 

In summer, the BSA visited the RNLI Support Centre in Poole, giving both organisations a chance to learn about each other’s work. The RNLI is proud to share almost 200 years of lifesaving experience with like-minded partners such as the BSA, with the aim of saving every one we can, together.

Raising funds with Where’s Welly

A colourful digital illustration, packed with lifeboats, lifeboat crew and lifeguards. With hidden iconic yellow wellies.

Photo: RNLI/Leonie Mead

Where’s Welly? – a fun way to raise RNLI funds and awareness 

Thousands of people helped the RNLI raise vital funds throughout 2021. Among the innovative and brilliant ideas was this interactive digital fundraiser from Oban RNLI. Where’s Welly was thought up and carefully illustrated by Oban Lifeboat Crew Member and Press Officer Leonie Mead as a bit of fun for people to take part in and to raise awareness of the RNLI, at a time when face-to-face contact remained restricted.

The digital illustration was inspired by RNLI lifeboat stations and lifeguards around the country and the amazing work of their dedicated volunteers. There are a number of yellow wellies hidden within the image and it’s over to the public to see if they can find them all. You can take part too by visiting whereswelly.co.uk, where you’ll find a high-quality version of the image.

Your RNLI family – then and now

A 1891 black and white photo of RNLI fundraisers, and crew on a lifeboat, in Manchester at the first ever charity street collection.

Photo: RNLI

1891: the world’s first charity street collection is caught on camera, in aid of the RNLI
RNLI family of fundraisers and volunteers gather together for a group photo with a lifeboat in Manchester, recreating the photo from 130 years ago.

Photo: RNLI

2021: your RNLI family today, recreating the historic photo from 130 years ago

On 9 October 2021, crowds flocked to St Ann’s Square in Manchester to witness the recreation of a famous image taken on this day in 1891. The photo from 130 years ago depicts the world’s first charity street collection. 

This year, a modern Atlantic 85 lifeboat was brought into the city centre and RNLI crews, lifeguards and members of the Water Safety Team were thrilled to meet members of the public and talk about their roles in saving lives at sea. 

Event organiser and RNLI Community Manager Sophie Wood says: ‘Our crews wouldn’t be able to continue saving lives if it weren’t for the generosity of the public, and Manchester has proved more than ever that the city has a huge heart. The world’s first street collection really did change the face of fundraising forever. It’s humbling to know that this world-first was in aid of the RNLI and the format is still as successful today as it was then.’

Show your kindness this Christmas

Year in, year out, your RNLI family finds new ways to raise funds and save lives. They will never give up trying to save every one. But they couldn’t do it without your support – in their eyes you’re a lifesaver too. 

At this special time of year, please show some kindness to your RNLI family by giving a lifesaving Christmas donation. If you have already donated to our Christmas Appeal, thank you so much.