Kim Dugan becomes first female helm at Portsmouth RNLI aged only 25
Portsmouth RNLI has two good reasons to celebrate Kim Dugan’s achievements - not only she is taking up a command role aged 25, but she is also the station’s first female helm in its 57-year history.
Kim is one of a growing number of women across the South East to have a leadership role in the charity's 24/7 search and rescue services. There are currently 245 female volunteers carrying out operational roles across the region and their contribution is vital to the RNLI’s mission of saving lives at sea.
When she began her career with the charity at 16, it was the influence of inspiring women within the RNLI’s lifeguard services that encouraged Kim to take steps towards a leadership role.
Now 25, she is the first female helm at Portsmouth RNLI, and looks forward to growing into her new role as well as being part of the management team that trains and helps other volunteer crew develop. Kim considers sex and age irrelevant to her new lifesaving role:
'It's pretty cool to be a part of the station's history, but to me, becoming a helm is just another step that anyone else would have taken. Different crew members might approach things slightly differently depending on the job, but the bigger picture is that we all do the same role, and sex doesn't come into that. We're all working towards the same goal.
It also doesn't bother me that I'm a bit younger than some of the other helms at the station, and even some of the management team. I believe that my previous experiences in lifeguarding when I had to work and speak with different groups of people of all ages and backgrounds have helped prepare me for this challenge.
I hope my example will encourage others to come to the station and volunteer as crew or explore other volunteering roles if they’re more suitable for them.’
As a helm in command of the station's D class inshore lifeboat - The Dennis Faro - Kim is responsible for keeping the crew safe and coordinating lifesaving operations when out at sea.
Kim started her time with the charity in 2013 when she joined as a lifeguard at Southsea beach in Portsmouth, working her way up to becoming a lifeguard supervisor for the area. In 2016 she joined Portsmouth RNLI as a volunteer, and with the local lifeboat crew, they have been keeping the sea safe for over half a century from their base on Langstone Harbour.
Speaking of how she decided to become a volunteer crew, Kim said:
'At the time, there were a couple of crew that I'd met through joint exercises that I had become quite good friends with, and they were always encouraging me to come down to the lifeboat station, but I wasn't so sure about it. Finally, when I passed my driving test, a friend said I had to go for it, so I was down at the station within a few weeks and started looking into how I could get involved.
Since I've become a crew, I've not looked back. It's part of my life, and I love it. The fact is that when the pager goes off, we might be tasked to launch and save someone's life. It's surreal, so there's nothing like it. If as helm I can make a difference and have a positive impact on the lives of others, whether it's my team members, the public or the people we're going out to rescue, it means I'm doing the right thing.’
'And if you're thinking you might be interested in becoming a volunteer crew, go for it,' Kim added. 'Speak to somebody at your local station and see what roles they have, what they involve, and whether it's something that you could commit to or want to be a part of.'
Like all RNLI volunteers, Kim gives up her time to help those in trouble at sea whenever the emergency call comes. In 2017, she went out on a rescue that turned out to be one of her most memorable as a lifeboat crew.
'I remember doing university work when the pager went off. We were tasked to rescue an injured person with a suspected dislocated hip on board a yacht approximately three miles south of Hayling Bay. We had a helicopter from HM Coastguard come down to assist us, but due to the weather and sea state, it couldn't winch down onto the yacht to take the casualties off.
When you get launched on a task, operations are resolved relatively quickly, and usually, there isn't a long transit time to get back. In this case, I was probably on the boat for a good hour and a half, and because we were with the casualties for such a long time, I developed a real connection with the casualty. I remember receiving a letter from the injured person we rescued to say “thank you”. I still think about this now.'
But her lifesaving work doesn't stop here. Kim has remained working as a seasonal lifeguard for the RNLI in the South East and works full-time as a Maritime Operations Officer in The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre with HM Coastguard. In her day job, she is on the other side of the 999 call, handling emergency calls and coordinating appropriate search and rescue responses for those who need help at sea.
Kim passing out as helm is an important milestone in her volunteering role as well as for Portsmouth RNLI. The other crew are very proud of what she has achieved so far and of her place in the station's history.
Neil Maxwell, RNLI Helm at Portsmouth Lifeboat Station, said:
‘We are very proud of our latest helm, Kim Dugan. Not just because Kim has worked hard to ensure she met the stringent requirements of qualifying for the role but also because she is the first female helm for our station.
During her time with Portsmouth RNLI, Kim has served as a crew member on both the D class and the Atlantic lifeboats, and she has been involved in some of the most dramatic rescues the station has had in recent years. From working with helicopters at the extreme end of operational weather conditions to plucking a drowning jet skier from the sea just before they disappeared beneath the waves, Kim has a great deal of experience.
Her experience on the lifeboat and her career as a RNLI lifeguard and Lifeguard Supervisor offer her a unique perspective and set of skills, and these mark her out as a real trailblazer at the station.
We do not doubt that, given all of Kim’s experience, the training that she will be able to offer to those that follow in her path will be second to none. And if I needed rescuing, I hope it’s her coming for me!’
In 2021, Portsmouth RNLI Lifeboat Station had 54 launches, helped 46 people, and saved 5 lives.
Portsmouth Lifeboat Station has provided search and rescue for the eastern Solent since 1965.
For more information on how to volunteer for the RNLI, go to RNLI.org/support-us/volunteer
Notes to editors
- The crews at Portsmouth Lifeboat Station have won four bronze medals for gallantry and currently operate two inshore lifeboats - a D class lifeboat named The Dennis Faro and an Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat Norma T. To learn more about the lifeboat station go to: https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeboat-stations/portsmouth-lifeboat-station
- Volunteers are the heart of the RNLI and make up 95% of our people
RNLI media contacts
For more information, please contact Simona Matache, RNLI South East Regional Media Placement, on 07790 772665 or email [email protected] or Julie Rainey, RNLI South East Regional Media Manager, on 07827 358256 or email [email protected]rg.uk or . Alternatively, please call the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336 789 or email [email protected].
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.
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
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