Supermum: Chocolatier, three sons, and lifeboat helm
“Being a mum of three, a fulltime chocolatier and a volunteer RNLI lifeboat helm is a fine balancing act but an amazing life”
Karen Cartwright, 43, is a mum of three and a fulltime chocolatier – but whenever her pager beeps, she rushes to her other role: the Helm of Mablethorpe RNLI’s D-Class Lifeboat.
“It’s a fine balancing act - but it’s an amazing life!” says Karen, who joined the volunteer crew in 2006 after what was meant to be a twenty minute trip turned into a real three-and-a-half-hour rescue.
She explains, “I’d been working on the education side of the RNLI for a while but had never been on a boat. So, the Lifeboat Manager suggested I go for a ride but after a few minutes we were called to find two skinny dippers who hadn’t reappeared on the beach. It was April and bitterly cold so there was fear that they could be in difficulty. In the end, I think they must have seen all the people looking for them, got embarrassed and got out further up the beach because they phoned to say they were safe and we were stood down. But from that day I was hooked. And I’ve been crew now for 11 years.”
Karen, whose partner is the Deputy Launching Authority and helps launch the boats, says one of her strangest shouts involved an unexploded WW2 bomb.
“The RNLI has since changed their policy, but back then we took the bomb disposal teams out to the bomb – and we carried it back to shore in the boat! It was my middle son – Ben’s – first day at school and I phoned up to let them know I couldn’t pick him up in time so was sending a family friend. Apparently, the teacher told him in front of his classmates that someone else would be picking him up because his mum was saving people from a bomb! It was a great icebreaker as everyone wanted to talk to him after that.”
Her youngest son, Alfie (aged 5), is a budding crew member and is used to jumping in the car and waiting patiently at the station for his nanny to come and get him.
“The most fulfilling shouts are when you get to hand children safely back to their parents. There were two young girls who’d drifted out to see in a dinghy. We found them, managed to calm them down, and brought them safely back to their dad. It’s such an amazing feeling.
“When rescues sadly end in tragedy, you can at least give that family closure. That’s really important.”
For Karen, Mother's Day will be spent training on the lifeboat with lunch out.
“I don't think we have had a Mother's Day shout so far. We never know when we will be needed - but, as always, we’ll be ready to go”.
Key facts about the RNLI
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. Our volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen, Carrybridge and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 240 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.
The RNLI relies on public donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. As a charity it is separate from, but works alongside, government-controlled and funded coastguard services. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 our lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95% of the charity, including 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3,000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in our museums, shops and offices.
Learn more about the RNLI
Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries
Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 or by email.
The RNLI is a charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SC037736). Charity number 20003326 in the Republic of Ireland