‘Joining the crew has made me more confident in my ability. In the beginning I was a bit lost and clueless, but four years later, I’ve completed my crew plan and am now training to be a mechanic on the boat, something I never thought would be possible before.’ Says taxi-driver and crew member Danny Woodford, one of three Newhaven volunteers who share their scoop on crew life.
Alvaro Rodrigues, carpenter and volunteer crew, says: ‘From knots to just about everything that it takes for me to play my part on the lifeboat, the RNLI has taught me.’
Volunteer crew will launch to help vessels as varied as tall ships, fishing trawlers, paddle boards and dingies. All the casualties there-in and the countless others who never intended to enter the water.
Alex Beckett, Ambulance Operations Manager and Newhaven RNLI Crew/Navigator, says: ‘I grew up about 60 miles from the nearest stretch of coastline, but moved to Sussex to study music at university. Back then the beach was for sitting and enjoying a beer on, perhaps an occasional summertime swim. I can’t claim to have a life-long affinity for all things maritime!’
Luckily for Alex there is no prerequisite for maritime or coastal experience to apply for the role of RNLI crew. Volunteers are provided world class training, regardless of their experience, attaining competency both on station and at RNLI College in Poole.
Alex continues: ‘Volunteering as crew has pushed me physically and mentally. There have been some intense situations that I never thought I’d find myself in. Initially I probably questioned whether I had the courage to be out working on deck at night in a raging storm, and yet now I’ve done just that.’
Danny says: ‘Having supportive people around me, who understand that I may disappear every now and then, helps me to make myself available for the lifeboat – for training and being on call for shouts.’
Lauren, Danny’s girlfriend, who tells us that the pager still makes her jump when it goes off, explains that she is very proud of what Danny does for the community and she doesn’t worry when he’s out on the boat, because “the crew are all lovely, supportive and look out for each other”.
This support is not singular. Alvaro’s partner, Carmen, talks about how she must be prepared to make changes in her day to day schedule – “you never know when the pager will go off”, but the readjusting is worth it, “I see how important it is for him to be with a purpose for something that is much bigger than him”.
It’s not unusual for the lifeboat to be called to an area where the water is more shallow, such as responding to people who have been caught out and cut off by the tide. It is calls like these that are extremely time critical and will be served effectively by the new in-shore lifeboat.
When the pagers go off attending crew are expected to get to the station within eight minutes. Danny lives roughly six minutes away, although his best arrival to date was 30 seconds. He pulled up his taxi to pick someone up from the building opposite, when his pager went off.
Alvaro says: ‘My workshop is over the bridge on the other side of the river, about a four minute drive, but if it’s a Friday afternoon and the traffic is bad, it’s quicker for me to run to the station, that’s about seven minutes.’
‘There are moments where you have to just admit that you cannot always be on the boat. Your family and your job comes first. It’s tough when you have to take yourself out of the calendar. As much as I can be, I’m part of it.’ Says Alvaro.
‘No one expects you to give more than you can.’ Says Alex, whose partner Katie is also on the crew. ‘I’ve found I’ve an intrinsic drive to be as available as I can be, because I love being on the boat, but it’s also important to remember to commit time to family and friends.’
Alex continues: ‘Each one of us has a fairly busy workload, but I’m always impressed by the amount of time given towards keeping the boat going, and the shared belief in the importance of why we’re all there. You don’t find that kind of commitment everywhere.’
Alvaro reflects on his twelve years as volunteer crew: ‘I have total respect for people working in all weathers out at sea. I appreciate my RNLI training, I am still learning! Understanding my limits, recognising my fears and discovering that sometimes I can be funny.’
Danny sums it up: ‘Being part of something that can change people's lives gives me an incredible feeling. Becoming volunteer crew is one of the best things I have ever done. The lifeboat is like an extra family and everyone supports each other, which makes us better.’
Notes for the editor
• ILB – In-shore lifeboat
• ALB – All-weather lifeboat
• The two-year trial of the D-class ILB will allow the RNLI to assess and evaluate the suitability for a permanent ILB at Newhaven. The ALB will continue to be stationed at Newhaven, the deepest safe water port of refuge between Dover and Portsmouth.
• Newhaven RNLI’s majestic Severn class ALB, the David and Elizabeth Acland, launches to a great variety of search and rescue service calls: into the Channel and along the coast between the station’s boundaries of Belle Tout Lighthouse in the east, to Saltdean in the west. Her volunteer crew will often launch it’s smaller, on board, daughter Y-class boat into the water for the final stages of a rescue.
• When Newhaven’s new modern afloat station was built in 2004, it was designed with the option to accommodate an inshore lifeboat. Only minor modifications are required to introduce the D-class ILB to the station.
• This trial will be complemented by enhanced water safety education and drowning prevention work at Newhaven RNLI. The RNLI’s combined focus on prevention and rescue activity will allow people to enjoy the coastline in greater safety around this part of the Sussex coast.
• An invitation is now live for anyone living within the close catchment of Newhaven, who is interested in joining the crew, to apply.
• Newhaven RNLI welcomes volunteers of 18 years and older. Up to 55 for the ILB and 65 for the ALB.
• Applications can be made via our Facebook @newhaven.lifeboat or via RNLI.org/volunteering and search for “Newhaven”
RNLI media contacts
For more information please telephone Roz Ashton, RNLI volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer on 07900 887423 or [email protected]
or Paul Dunt, Regional Media Officer on 07785 296252 [email protected]
or contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.
RNLI Newhaven social media
For more information, please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the RNLI News Centre.
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.