RNLI celebrates the women who engineer its lifeboats

Lifeboats News Release

This International Women in Engineering Day, the RNLI is celebrating the female engineers who help to save lives at sea.

RNLI/Jennifer Clough

RNLI Mechanical Engineer Helen Bunce

Women working for the charity in specialist areas including naval architecture and mechanical engineering help to design and maintain the charity’s fleet of world-class lifeboats, which are used by its volunteer crews to save lives around the coasts of the UK and Ireland.

The RNLI’s 10 classes of lifeboat must cope with the varied and demanding conditions of the UK and Ireland’s coastline, and protect the charity’s volunteer lifeboat crews from some of the most challenging conditions – so the role of engineering at the charity is vital.

Among the women engineers at the RNLI are Principal Naval Architect Dr Holly Phillips MBE, Senior Naval Architect Susie Webber, and Helen Bunce who joined the RNLI as a Mechanical Engineer earlier this year.

During her 17-year career with the RNLI, Dr Holly Phillips has been instrumental in the design of the E-Class water-jet propelled lifeboats which are based at Tower RNLI and Chiswick RNLI on the Thames. Senior Naval Architect Susie Webber has worked for the RNLI for over five and a half years in total, and was involved in re-designing some aspects of the Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat.

Helen started her career with the RNLI as a lifeguard on Boscombe Beach in Dorset in 2012, before rejoining the charity earlier this year as a Mechanical Engineer. She graduated from a degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics engineering three years ago, and, so far, her engineering career has seen her work with aeroplanes, cars and now lifeboats.

Based at the RNLI’s headquarters in Poole, Dorset, Helen’s job is varied and can involve working on any of the mechanical systems onboard any of the charity’s extensive fleet of lifeboats – including the engines, exhaust-systems, and even fire extinguishers, solving problems and improving the way things are designed and built. Her job can also involve going on sea trials, visiting lifeboat stations and working with the people who build the boats.

Helen said, ‘Before working at the RNLI, I was working with Jaguar Landrover, and before that while at university I did a year in industry with Rolls Royce’s civil aerospace team, so moving from aeroplanes to the car industry. Now I’m working on lifeboats for the RNLI, which is really different again. It’s really fulfilling knowing the equipment I’m working on will help save lives at sea.

‘I’ve found that other women in engineering departments actively approach you and are happy to share their experiences and advice, and the places I’ve worked have either a Women’s Network or a Women in Engineering network for extra networking and for any support. Sometimes being relatively new to something can make you feel less confident, but you just have to remember that everyone got there the same way. The RNLI is a really nice place to work – everyone is really friendly and always really happy to help.’

Helen is also in the Army Reserves, which she says is helping support her professional development by giving her more engineering experience and developing her workshop skills.

Engineering at the RNLI

  • The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea, and has a team of engineers who are constantly developing and improving the charity’s lifeboats.
  • The RNLI’s newest lifeboat, the £2.2M all-weather Shannon-class lifeboat, was designed in-house by the charity’s team of engineers, and is built in-house at the RNLI’s All-Weather Lifeboat Centre in Poole, Dorset.
  • The All-Weather Lifeboat Centre was opened in 2015.

The RNLI is also hosting an event on 21st June for girls from schools local to its headquarters in Poole to come and take part in a day of hands-on STEM based activities and the opportunity to meet RNLI people who work in engineering, in the hope of inspiring the next generation of women in engineering.


Notes to editors

· High-resolution pictures of Helen available on request.

· Interviews available on request.


RNLI media contacts

For more information please contact Jennifer Clough, RNLI Press Officer on Jennifer_Clough@RNLI.org.uk or contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.


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.

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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.

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