This International Women’s Day the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is celebrating the work of its incredible female lifesavers as it hopes to inspire more women to join its ranks.
They include Poole RNLI volunteer helm Suzie Jupp, who has been helping to save lives on land and at sea as an NHS respiratory physiotherapist rehabilitating Covid-19 patients on a critical care unit.
Suzie said: ‘I remember from a young age watching the Selsey lifeboat launch as I visited my grandparents on my holidays. When I moved to Poole for my NHS career in 2012, I found I was close enough to join the team at Poole and I didn’t think twice about signing up as a volunteer.
‘At Poole we average over 100 rescues each year. I’ve seen my fair share of dramatic calls at sea but my skills at work also help me deal with what I might face as a volunteer. I’m now a helm on the D class inshore lifeboat which has, on occasions, gone to the rescue with an all-female crew.
‘In my day job as a respiratory physiotherapist, throughout the pandemic I’ve cared for patients on ventilators as they start their slow recovery and on a daily basis help with their daily rehabilitation to help them get up to strength. In some cases, some were so poorly they were unable to speak and to hear their first words to their family as they started the long road to recovery not only brought tears to their family’s eyes, but also to the staff as we realise the impact we’ve made on somebody’s life and their surrounding loved ones.
‘Being a lifeboat volunteer allows me to not only go to sea to save lives, but others on station are like an extended RNLI family. It allows me to step away from the day job, and the support and understanding I’ve had from the crew has been so supportive and reassuring to have. To combine their friendship alongside being able to make a difference at sea is something I truly value.’
Tucked away on the west Norfolk coast lies the seaside resort of Hunstanton who currently have seven female volunteers in various roles, both afloat and ashore. A little further around the coast, Happisburgh and Aldeburgh can boast similar numbers too.
Joanne Jutsum is one of the newer recruits to join Hunstanton RNLI and said: ‘I’m a diver and sailor and wanted to give something back to the community and use my knowledge to help others. It didn’t take me too long to feel like part of the team, everyone has been really supportive and kind.
‘As a Deputy Launch Authority, I have one of the biggest responsibilities on the station. I’ll take the initial call from the Coastguard after they’ve received a call for help. I then have to decide whether to launch, and if so which of the station’s assets to deploy.
‘My proudest moment to date was handling my first shout without supervision. Reports had come in of 16 people being cut off by the tide at a popular Norfolk coastal spot. Knowing the tide was rising fast, I knew it wouldn’t be long before they ended up in the water. I authorised the launch of our Inshore Rescue Hovercraft which arrived at the location pretty quickly. Thankfully, they returned the 11 adults and five children safely back to shore.’
As if holding one lifesaving role for the charity wasn’t enough, Alice Higgins volunteers as lifeboat crew for Weymouth RNLI and is also employed as a Lead Lifeguard Supervisor for the local area.
Alice said: ‘I joined as a volunteer in 2010 and have since progressed through the ranks and am now a helm on our Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat. Being a helm can be a challenging position to hold and has a lot of responsibility with it. From selecting appropriate crew with skill sets for each call out to handling and managing the boat in a variety of conditions, it can certainly test your own skills both mentally and physically. Having said that, I’ve had the best training to prepare for all eventualities, and with that and the right attitude, anyone could be a lifesaver.
‘In my day job, the beach is my office as I hold the role of Lead Lifeguard Supervisor. The summer months are extremely busy for me and the team. However, the role is very rewarding as you are there to make sure the public stay safe while enjoying their visit, and ultimately to help save lives at sea.’
Women have played a vital role in ensuring the RNLI have been able to save lives at sea over the years.
Not all RNLI roles involve going to sea or being on the end of the pager 24/7. From fundraisers to lifeboat volunteers, lifeguards to press officers, there are a whole host of roles which help the charity save lives at sea.
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.
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.