Breaking the bias: Female firsts on the RNLI’s front line

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. We are called upon to imagine a gender-equal world, free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.

Even in 2022, when asked to picture a lifeboat crew member, many people will automatically picture a man, probably with a beard. But more than 500 women around the UK and Ireland are out there ready to save lives – and not just as crew members but also in command. Here, we celebrate just a few of these brilliant women.

Denise Lynch, Fenit

Denise Lynch, the first woman in Ireland to qualify as a volunteer coxswain

Photo: RNLI/Terry Sheehy

Denise Lynch, the first woman in Ireland to qualify as a volunteer coxswain

Denise Lynch of Fenit RNLI is the first woman in Ireland to qualify as a volunteer coxswain. She says: ‘From the day I visited the station in primary school, I fell in love with lifeboats. I know my family and the lifeboat crew are proud of me and I feel incredibly honoured and ready for this new challenge.

‘I have been a helm on the inshore lifeboat and a navigator on the all-weather lifeboat for years. I think about how we are helping families whose loved ones are in trouble and it hits home how important the work of the RNLI is, along with that of our colleagues in the Coast Guard and other search and rescue agencies.

‘It’s no big deal to my male colleagues on the lifeboat crew that a woman is in this role, because they know me and they’ve been to sea with me in all weathers. The trust and respect are mutual between lifeboat crew. They know I can do the job and they know I’m there for them, whatever happens. If you’ve an interest, just give it a cut.

‘It’s very special to be the first female coxswain, but I hope there are many more to come. I hope it encourages more people to volunteer.’

Dawn Hodge, Bembridge

Dawn Hodge from Bembridge on the Isle of Wight is the station’s first female helm. A sports massage and soft tissue therapist in her day job, Dawn joined the lifeboat crew in 2018.

‘It’s a privilege to be a helm at Bembridge, let alone the first female helm,’ she says. ‘I’ve loved the challenges so far that being on the lifeboat have presented. I hope that my success shows that you don’t need to have a maritime background to get involved, and will inspire more girls and women to volunteer with the RNLI.’

Amelia Luck, Fowey

Amelia Luck, helming Fowey's D class inshore lifeboat

Photo: Austen Bannister

Amelia Luck, Fowey's first female helm

In the south-west of England, at Fowey, Amelia Luck became the station’s first female helm last year. She says: ‘I see myself as just another helm. I don’t think there’s any difference; no one makes me feel any different here and it’s all very inclusive. 

‘One of the female trainers that I had at the RNLI College in Poole said to me that we can do anything the guys can do, we’ve just got to go about it in different ways sometimes. I can do exactly the same as the men and I don’t get treated any differently. It’s great to be the first female helm at Fowey but I think of myself as the same as the others. We’re just one crew really.

‘They were short of crew when I joined so my crew plan was fast-tracked. In theory, you should be shore crew for a year and then go on to being full crew, so I was very lucky to get that opportunity. Having said that, you do need to take control of your training and you need to push yourself to train. 

‘There’s lots of things I enjoy about being part of the RNLI. I love the camaraderie and being part of the whole RNLI family. The training is amazing. Some of the crew have just been on a course at the RNLI College and they loved it. On every course you do the trainers are fantastic and the facilities are amazing. You meet people there from all the different stations and everyone always gets on. Anyone you meet from the RNLI is always very positive.

‘The RNLI is a very inclusive organisation and provides a huge amount of training for new crew members. If the thing that’s stopping you is because you’re female, don’t let it. If you’re thinking of joining, come down to your local station, have a chat and meet the crew. Everyone’s really friendly and you won’t get treated any differently if you’re female or male.’

And you?

If you’re interested in joining us in the quest to save every one, check out these RNLI volunteering opportunities.