Lifesaver swaps running kit for lifeboat crew kit for marathon challenge

Lifeboats News Release

Taking on a marathon is a daunting challenge in itself. However, Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) volunteer, Stephen Wheatley is to complete the 26.2 miles wearing his full RNLI lifesaving crew kit whilst raising funds for the charity in the heart of London.

On October 4th (the revised London Marathon day), Stephen will complete his own 26.2 mile marathon in London along the banks of the Thames in full RNLI crew kit. This lifesaving kit is designed to keep brave lifeboat volunteers safe and dry while saving lives in all weathers, but it’s certainly not designed for undertaking marathons in!

Stephen, who is a volunteer crew member at Tower RNLI in the heart of London, expects the challenge to take him 9 hours. He said, ‘At Tower Lifeboat Station, when someone’s in trouble in the Thames and the bell rings for an emergency call we are kitted and under way within 90 seconds. The lifesaving kit we wear is ideal for our role on the Thames, keeping us safe, warm and dry in a variety of conditions. It’s perfect for saving lives in all weathers, but maybe not the attire of choice for completing a gruelling 26-mile marathon.’

As Stephen takes on the challenge, which will see him complete 18 laps of Victoria and Albert embankments, a number of other volunteers from Tower RNLI will join him throughout the day to help support and to keep his morale up as he continues to step towards the end goal of 26.2 miles. Whilst the route is scenic, taking in Waterloo Bridge, the Southbank, Blackfriars Bridge and Victoria Embankment, the route isn’t without some challenges on the way. Stephen will have to climb over 1,000 steps during the challenge, all the while wearing his full set of lifeboat crew kit.

Stephen has been volunteering with Tower RNLI since October 2005 and has taken part in many rescues along the Thames ranging from the tragic to the amusing. One of Stephen’s more memorable shouts was early on a bright sunlit May morning three years ago to a person in the river below Blackfriars Bridge. When the crew arrived on scene the only thing visible was the casualty’s hand, which was rapidly grasped and he was pulled on board to safety.

Jayne George, RNLI Fundraising, Marketing and Media Director, says:

‘Our lifesavers have just come through an incredibly busy summer, with people flocking to the coast as lockdown ended. However, many fundraising events have been cancelled, our shops, stations and museums have been closed to visitors, and this has resulted in a big drop in income. I’m in awe of Stephen. To take on a marathon is an incredible challenge. But to do it in full lifesaving crew kit that is more suited to stormy seas than city streets is absolutely amazing. Without our incredible supporters raising vital funds for us, we wouldn’t be able to keep on saving lives or provide vital kit to keep our crews safe.’

The RNLI Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) used on the Thames and which will be worn by Stephen during his marathon challenge comprises of Gecko safety helmet, Helly Hansen waterproof salopettes and jacket, a Crewsaver lifejacket and Magnum 5.11 tactical boots.

Funded by voluntary donations, the RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea around the UK and Ireland. It relies on thousands of dedicated volunteers who are on-call 24/7, ready to risk their lives to save others in danger on the sea.

The RNLI has a total of 238 lifeboat stations around the UK and Ireland, of which, Tower RNLI is the busiest. In 2019 alone, Tower RNLI launched 521 times, saving 17 lives and aiding a further 103 people back to safety.

To support Stephen in his challenge, please visit:

Notes to editors

· High-resolution photographs of Stephen available upon request

· Interview with Stephen available upon request


RNLI media contacts

For more information please telephone Dave Riley, RNLI National Media Officer on 01202 336789 or or the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

RNLI/Nathan Williams

Stephen Wheatley, volunteer RNLI crewmember

RNLI/Nathan Williams

Stephen getting into his lifesaving kit

RNLI/Nathan Williams

Stephen will complete 19 laps of Victoria and Albert embankments

RNLI/Nathan Williams

Stephen with some London sights int he background as he crosses the Thames

RNLI/Nathan Williams

Stephen will be raising funds for the RNLI

RNLI/Harrison Bates

Stephen (front) on-call at Tower 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 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 by email.