RNLI celebrates its inspirational women
Fifty years since the first woman qualified as an RNLI crew member, the charity iscelebrating International Women’s Day and recognising the incredible contribution of women to saving lives at sea.
In 1969, 18-year-old Norwegian student Elizabeth Hostvedt, became the first woman qualified to command an RNLI inshore lifeboat. She paved the way for other women and since then things have changed rapidly. Today, the RNLI’s lifeboat crews include over 500 women, and this number is growing all the time.
Natalie Adams is one of those crew members and like Elizabeth joined the RNLI when she was 18 years old. She joined her local lifeboat station at Dungeness as a volunteer ten years ago following in the footsteps of her father who is coxswain.
Four years later Natalie joined Gravesend lifeboat station as a staff helm helping to save lives along the River Thames. On why she joined the RNLI, Natalie said:
‘I’ve had family in the RNLI since I was small and the lifeboat station has always been a huge part of our community. I wanted to be a part of that team and make the difference by helping others.
‘The RNLI is a unique organisation with some awesome people who make everyone feel welcome. We are serious when we need to be but also have good fun. It’s not all about physical strength - it takes a wide range of skill sets and personalities to build a safe and effective lifeboat crew. It’s great to feel a part of that team; you never feel like you are out there on your own. There is also a great satisfaction knowing you've helped someone at the end of the day. You don't need any sea-going experience; all training is provided all you need is a desire to learn and to get stuck in.’
In her time at the RNLI Natalie has been involved in many rescues, but one in particular stood out for her.
‘We were called to a man once who was trying to make his way from England to France in an inflatable dinghy. We found him four miles off the Kent Coast, very cold and tired. Seeing someone four miles off the coast, in a dinghy you would buy at the seaside, alone in the rain holding his umbrella isn’t something you see every day!
Gravesend RNLI Lifeboat Station like many of our stations has an ever-growing number of women playing a significant part in the running of the station, crew and shore crew operations. There are currently ten female crew and in February last year they had their first all-female shift.
Natalie said: ‘I feel very lucky to work alongside so many strong and inspirational women and would encourage others to join the RNLI!’
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, in a normal year, 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.