Karla takes command on the Thames
Fifteen years ago Karla Thresher signed up as an RNLI crew member in Minehead, equipped with little more than enthusiasm and ambition.
Now she has landed one of the most high-profile full-time jobs in the entire lifeboat service: commanding a lifeboat at one of the four stations the RNLI maintains on the Thames.
After six months of advanced training Karla has become an accredited Thames Commander, joining a team of eight full-time crew and 40 volunteers who provide round-the-clock emergency cover from Gravesend RNLI station.
Well used to coping with the treacherous tides and currents along the 30-mile stretch of the Bristol Channel coast covered by the Minehead station Karla now alternates that with four-day duty tours on a heavily industrialised, 26-mile stretch of the Thames downstream from the tidal barrier to Sea Reach.
And, she says: “I really am living the dream.”
Karla, whose great-uncle Harold was an RNLI coxswain in Minehead in the 1950s, originally joined the station’s shore crew before stepping up to boat crew.
In 2018 she became the first woman to take command of a Minehead lifeboat when she was passed out as D class helm. A year later she qualified to helm the larger, Atlantic 85, carrying out her first rescue aboard it after just three weeks.
But last year came the chance to quit her health service job and follow a full-time career in the RNLI when the Gravesend post became vacant and she was accepted for it.
“It’s a completely different environment at Gravesend,” she said. “We’re dealing much more with things such as industrial accidents and we also work closely with other agencies like the police and fire service which have their own boats.
“But it’s a fantastic job. I get to go out on a lifeboat every day - and I have turned a hobby and a passion into a career.”
Between rostered duties at Gravesend Karla returns to Minehead where she remains an active crew member - much to the delight of local operations manager Dr John Higgie.
“Even if she’s only here half the time she still makes a huge contribution to the life of the station,” he said.
“Karla’s one of our most experienced helms and she’s a real source of inspiration to our new recruits, apart from showing that women are just as capable as men of taking command of lifeboats and saving lives.
“Everyone at the station is incredibly proud of her. She’s shown what can be achieved with dedication and determination.
“And of course the other side of the coin is that her success demonstrates quite dramatically how the RNLI can accept a recruit with little or no seagoing experience and train them up to fully professional standards.”
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.
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