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North Devon RNLI lifeguards recognised for courageous rescue which saved a life

Lifeguards News Release

On Thursday 24 August RNLI Senior Lifeguard Freddie Hedger received the charity’s Alison Saunders Lifeguarding award for his heroic actions last summer, where he risked his own life to save body boarder, Mary Harkin, at Croyde Beach, North Devon.

RNLI/Jade Dyer

Sean Deasy, Alison Saunders and Freddie Hedger with the award after the ceremony.

However Freddie was keen to reiterate that without the assistance of his colleague, RNLI Lifeguard Sean Deasy, it’s unlikely the rescue would have had a positive outcome. He therefore wanted Sean to also be recognised for the role he played last year so asked him to accept the award with him during the ceremony, which was attended by the lifeguard’s friends, family and colleagues, along with RNLI Operations Director George Rawlinson and the award’s sponsor Alison Saunders.

The 2016 award was given to Freddie for his bravery, presence of mind, skill and determination during the difficult rescue which took place at 4.30pm on 8 August 2016 at Croyde beach. The award is made annually by the Trustees of the RNLI, for the most meritorious rescue by RNLI lifeguards during the previous season.

RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor Vaughan Lawson gave a speech during the ceremony, praising Freddie for his courage, determination and skill but also acknowledging the important team effort from Sean and the other lifeguards which ultimately saved Mary’s life. After being presented with the Alison Saunders Lifeguard award by the sponsor herself, George Rawlinson also presented Freddie with a Framed Letter of Thanks from the Chairman of the Institution.

After the ceremony Freddie Hedger said: ‘I feel very privileged to be recognised and given the award but as I’ve said before, I don’t think I’d have been able to do it without the rest of the team there on the day. It wasn’t just me, and it was only with Sean’s perseverance and assistance with the rescue water craft that I was able to reach the safety of the shore. It was definitely a team effort.’

Sean Deasy said: ‘The rescue was very unorthodox so took a lot of improvisation using the skills we’d gained through our RNLI training. I think I was fortunate to have Freddie Hedger with me as he has incredible water skills and was able to think on his feet to save Mary’s life.’

Freddie added: ‘We know from other rescues that it doesn’t always go to plan so the ability to adapt and persevere in the face of danger is vital. Since it happened we have questioned if we could have done anything differently and reflected on what lessons it has taught us, so this year we have adapted our training techniques for certain conditions as necessary.’

This year marks Freddie’s final season as an RNLI lifeguard as he will be relocating to train as an officer in the armed forces, but he says he is pleased with the work he has carried out for the charity over the years and hopes to still be involved in some way in the future. After the peak season has ended, Sean will be returning to Hong Kong to teach children until next summer, when he intends to return to North Devon as an RNLI lifeguard again.

Notes to editors

The enclosed photos show:

  • Freddie Hedger and Sean Deasy on patrol at Croyde beach.
  • Freddie Hedger with the rescue board and Sean Deasy on the rescue water craft at Croyde beach.
  • RNLI lifeguard supervisor Vaughan Lawson gives a speech at the award ceremony.
  • RNLI Operations Director George Rawlinson presenting the letter of thanks to Freddie.
  • Sean Deasy and Freddie Hedger together at Croyde beach.
  • Sean Deasy, Alison Saunders and Freddie Hedger with the award after the ceremony.

Please credit RNLI/Jade Dyer for all photos.

  • A detailed account of the rescue can be found here:
  • Parkdean Resorts make a significant contribution towards the lifeguard provision at Croyde beach, helping to make the beach a safe place to enjoy.
  • It should be noted that RNLI lifeguards are expected to operate in difficult and often dangerous conditions as a matter of course. By the nature of their role they are in the water, often at considerable risk at their own safety. Whilst they have the benefit of the rescue water craft and buoyancy aids, these can be of limited use in certain circumstances and many rescues are the result of the skill, determination and bravery of individuals. Only rescues that have displayed these traits to a very high degree are recognised by the RNLI and, in this case, Freddie Hedger is being recognised by the award of a Framed Letter of Thanks from the Chairman of the Institution and an Alison Saunders Lifeguarding Award. The latter recognises acts of outstanding skill and bravery.

RNLI media contacts

For more information please contact Jade Dyer, Communications Student Placement by emailing

RNLI/Jade Dyer

Freddie Hedger and Sean Deasy on patrol at Croyde beach.

RNLI/Jade Dyer

Freddie Hedger with the rescue board and Sean Deasy on the rescue water craft at Croyde beach.

RNLI/Jade Dyer

RNLI Operations Director George Rawlinson presenting Freddie with the Framed Letter of Thanks.

RNLI/Jade Dyer

Sean Deasy and Freddie Hedger at Croyde beach.

RNLI/Jade Dyer

RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor Vaughan Lawson gives a speech during the ceremony.

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.

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The RNLI is a charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SC037736). Charity number 20003326 in the Republic of Ireland