Daily Mail response and Q&A for our supporters

Lifeboats News Release

We have now published our responses to some of the inaccurate statements in today's Daily Mail article. Please use this as information for yourselves and to help you answer any questions.

You may have read a story about the RNLI in the Daily Mail on Saturday (12 May) which gave a one-sided and inaccurate version of how and why our charity is changing. It included comments from a small number of former crew who want to discredit the RNLI as well as unattributed quotes which can’t be verified.

What it didn’t include was the information provided to the Mail during long and detailed interviews with two senior members of our CLS team and a volunteer LOM who spent 90 minutes talking to the reporter. They were open and honest, responding to questions about both individual incidents and the way the RNLI is changing. They provided many facts and figures and corrected false information that had been provided to the Mail.

But none of this has appeared in the article. They ignored it. So we are providing you with some of the facts we gave the Mail, to ensure you have a more balanced account.

We won’t comment on individual cases as these have all been well-documented and we stand by the decisions we have made. But we will correct some of the worryingly biased and incorrect information the Mail chose to include in its story.

They wrote: To have mass resignations at one lifeboat station might be considered unfortunate, but to suffer at least seven such cases in a period of around 18 months is somewhat more worrying.

We say: Only two of our 238 lifeboat stations have seen ‘mass resignations’. Less than one percent of our 6,000 operational volunteers have been involved in the disciplinary issues you have read about in the past two years. These issues are serious and we will not stand for hard core pornography, bullying, harassment, joyriding in lifeboats, or launching a lifeboat whilst under the influence of alcohol. Or anything that doesn’t reflect our values. We are proud of our volunteers who are brave, honest men and women dedicated to saving lives and committed to acting with integrity and we owe it to them to make sure we challenge behaviour or actions that don’t meet our high standards.

They wrote: A dispute between the RNLI and two crew members in Whitby revolved around ‘jokey Christmas gifts…including a mug with a picture of a naked woman on it and one of the crew’s faces superimposed on the model’s head.’

We say: While we don’t want to go over individual issues, we think it’s important to dispel this particular myth. The images involved were hard core, graphic pornography that even tabloid newspapers would not print. The mock up images reported in the newspapers are nothing like those involved in this issue.

They wrote: Its most recent published accounts show income of £191M, including £130M from legacies – more than the £177M is takes to run its 238 stations…Overall assets (including property and boats) have grown to £712M, of which £271M is now held in ‘investments’.

We say: Our assets, on the whole, are our 238 lifeboat stations, many of them in unique and challenging coastal locations; our lifeboats, which can cost more than £2M; launching equipment and our regional and HQ buildings and account for around 62% of our £712 million assets . It costs £180m a year to run the RNLI and we are advised by the Charity Commission that, to be a responsible charity, we have to have enough in the bank to ensure that if all fundraising stopped today we could keep running our crucial service for between 6-12 months. We provide an essential emergency service so it is imperative that we have enough reserves to continue our rescue service whatever happens. We also have to ensure we have enough surplus funds for planned capital expenditure over the next few years – the ongoing upgrade of our aging fleet and the provision of new lifeboat stations in some locations.

In 2016, our assets reduced by around £43M and investments reduced by around £3M, so the idea that it increases each year is simply not true.

They wrote: In 2001, a group of campaigning accountants called Ethical Audit criticised it for having £200M tucked away…The Charity Commission agreed the figures were ‘on the high side’ and asked the RNLI to reduce them.

We say: This is very old news and it’s a shame that the Mail had to look back over 15 years to dredge up controversy. At the time we listened to the feedback and did something about it – ensuring we were spending our funds appropriately.

They wrote: The charity came up with a way of disposing its cash: changing its historic remit from rescuing people at sea and inland waterways to a role including drowning prevention.

We say: The opportunity to widen our remit to include a lifeguard service and prevention work has enabled the RNLI to save thousands more lives. Our founder, Sir William Hillary, wanted to set up an organisation of volunteers ‘in constant readiness to risk their own lives for the preservation of those whom they have never known or seen, perhaps of another nation, merely because they are fellow creatures in extreme peril.’

Today, that fundamental desire to save lives is still true. Thousands of people visit our beaches and some of those get into trouble in the water. Our professional and highly skilled lifeguards help to rescue those who do get into difficulty, but also stop many needing help in the first place. They, and our prevention teams, mean that more people make active and informed decisions to stay safe, or know how to react when they do fall in the water. This is an invaluable and core part of our work, and something we are very proud of.

They wrote: Seventeen years later, the RNLI employs 523 lifeguards in Britain.

We say: We actually employ around 1,600 seasonal lifeguards who help more than 20,000 people each year. RNLI lifeguards have improved public safety on more than 240 popular beaches and we are very proud of them. Last year they attended 15,558 incidents and helped 24,044 people.

They wrote: It has invested in a £25M HQ at Poole … which was opened by the Queen in 2004.

We say: This refers to the RNLI College, funded largely by a legacy left to the RNLI to be spent specifically on training. The College is a brilliant facility which benefits all our volunteers and by bringing training in house, the RNLI saves on the cost of having someone else provide equivalent training and accommodation. We also sell any spare capacity to local businesses and visitors, which brings in funds for the charity and raises awareness among new audiences.

They wrote: In 1999 it had 750 employees but within five years, it had 1,000. By 2016 there were 2,366, with 35 senior executives earning more than £60,000, overseen by chief executive Paul Boissier, on a total package of £162,705.

We say: The RNLI has grown as it works to reduce the number of lives lost through coastal drowning by 50% by 2024.

We now have lifeguards, youth education and drowning prevention programmes. We build our own lifeboats, have to maintain and repair them, we train the next generation of lifesavers at our college, maintain annual training for our lifeboat crew and lifeguards, we fundraise, we manage community shops, we showcase the heritage of the charity in our museums.

Looking at the figures in the Mail article, we didn’t have any lifeguards in 1999 – this was introduced in 2002 and since then has expanded almost every year. We have 1,700 permanent staff; 1,600 seasonal lifeguards and face-to-face fundraisers.

Yes, we have a well-paid senior team but this is comparable to any other major charity or emergency service. As Chief Executive of a large charity and emergency service that covers the UK and Republic of Ireland, Paul Boissier is responsible for tens of thousands of volunteers, lifeguards, fundraisers and others dedicated to saving lives at sea in a highly professional, technologically advanced and often risky environment.

They wrote: Its French equivalent employs just 75.

We say: The SNSM is a very different organisation to the RNLI and it receives Government funding.

They wrote: Though it used to limit its operations to the UK and Ireland, the RNLI now boasts of running drowning prevention programmes in Tanzania, Zanzibar, Bangladesh, Ghana and Lesbos. It talks of trying to influence policy makers and partners and lobbying the UN to reduce deaths at sea.

We say: 360,000 people drown each year worldwide . Our maritime lifesaving expertise has been built up over 190 years and we can help others in the international lifesaving community by sharing our knowledge and experience, to help them improve their services and tackle drowning. We spend less than 2% of the RNLI’s total annual expenditure on our international prevention activity but we are proud of this work and will continue to work with our international partners to tackle the global epidemic of drowning.

They wrote: It has a new national team of health, safety and environment advisers winning health and safety awards.

We say: Our lifeboat crews, lifeguards and many of our other staff work in hazardous environments. We have a duty to protect all our people, as well as a legal responsibility to meet standards set for us by Government bodies. It’s very easy to criticise health and safety initiatives but actually this is just about keeping our people safe. What’s wrong with that?

They wrote: It speaks of creating a ‘diversity leadership group among staff and supporting the International Day Against Homophobia’.

We say: Lifesaving at the RNLI is powered by our people in our communities. To ensure the long term future of these communities we must all treat everyone with dignity and respect and recognise the value that each individual brings. But focusing on inclusion and diversity is not just the right thing to do, it is essential to the sustainability of the RNLI and our ability to deliver our organisational goal. It takes a wide range of diverse minds, cultures and experiences to effectively connect with different audiences and communities, and that is what we’re trying to build at the RNLI. Diversity will be key to helping us understand and engage with audiences in new communities.

They wrote: Posts currently advertised include a safeguarding officer earning up to £41,926.

We say: We’d much prefer to operate in a world where we didn’t need to consider safeguarding. But the RNLI has a moral and legal imperative to create a safe and inclusive environment where all our people, as well as the thousands we rescue and interact with, are protected from harm, abuse and neglect. For instance, our education team spoke to more than half a million children last year and our lifeguards helped more than 20,000 people on beaches. We have to make sure all those interactions are safe, positive and meet required standards.

They wrote: For lifeboat crews, the biggest recent change (and a key factor in the squabbles) has been a restructuring of middle management…The exercise created 42 area lifesaving managers to supervise half a dozen lifeboat stations each.

We say: The new coastal management structure and the Area Lifesaving Manager role were introduced following feedback from our volunteers that they were not getting enough support on the coast. Area managers are now much closer to the lifeboat stations and lifeguard units they manage, and can spend more time with staff and volunteers on the ground.
The 42 Area Lifesaving Manager roles were not additional jobs, but formed using existing numbers of staff and changing their roles. They manage smaller patches which include not just lifeboat stations, but lifeguard units, prevention work and sometimes flood rescue assets.

We have not got everything right during these changes, but we are working hard with all our volunteers to ensure they have the support and the training they require to operate a modern lifesaving service.

They wrote: In the past, regional managers responsible for dozens of stations would visit every six months. Under the new regime, local volunteers are inspected monthly or even weekly.

We say: This isn’t about ‘inspection’ but about support for our volunteers and to ensure that, as a modern, professional emergency service, we adhere to the very highest operational and behavioural standards. Some of this change has been implemented to protect our volunteer crews – 90 per cent of whom don’t come from a maritime background - and to make sure they have the very best training, equipment, assurance and the day-to-day support essential to providing a 24/7 lifesaving service.

They wrote: Too many area managers…are young graduates who have never been to sea and have no idea of the skill and effort required to be a lifeboatman.

We say: This is nonsense. Many of our Area Lifesaving Managers started their RNLI careers as volunteer crew or lifeguards. A number come from other emergency services. They all have the relevant operational experience to manage their complex and sometimes challenging responsibilities. Yes, some of them may be younger than the former coxswains featured in the article but that does not mean they are not more than capable of tackling certain practices and behaviours that are completely unacceptable in a lifeboat station or any modern workplace.

They wrote: Other lifeboatmen say this new culture of micromanagement means basic operations are preceded by risk assessments and team briefings.

We say: Any responsible skipper taking a boat afloat would make sure they had the right skills on board and would let their crew know what the plan was, how to stay safe and what was expected of them. It’s even more important to do this on a lifeboat that could be called into a dangerous or complicated situation at any moment.

It’s not just common sense – this approach is shown to reduce accidents. Following an increased number of accidents at sea involving RNLI crew, we found that the lack of a briefing at the start of a rescue or exercise was frequently the root cause. We brought in these measures to ensure that crew were properly prepared to go to sea and carry out a rescue or fulfil an exercise. This is standard practice for the Coastguard and all emergency services and follows recommendations from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch. The intention is to reduce accidents and keep our people safe.

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or or by email.