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RNLI releases new figures to highlight crews’ lifesaving impact in the Channel

Lifeboats News Release

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has revealed that its lifeboat crews saved the lives* of 108 people crossing the English Channel last year.

RNLI/Nathan Williams

RNLI volunteers crew test the new inflatable sea stairs during a training exercise

It is the first time the charity that saves lives at sea has published figures for the work of its volunteer crews in the Channel.

In total, the RNLI was tasked and launched 290 times during 2022 to incidents involving men, women and children making the perilous journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in small, overcrowded and unseaworthy boats.

This figure represents 3% of the total number of lifeboat launches for the whole of the RNLI last year.

RNLI Chief Executive, Mark Dowie, said: ‘We are extremely proud of all our volunteer lifeboat crews throughout the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands and that very much includes those working in challenging circumstances in the south-east of England.

‘We have never released these figures before, but they illustrate clearly that our charity’s work in the Channel is genuinely lifesaving.

‘Sadly we know there have been incidents in the Channel which have resulted in deaths, but without the brave actions of our crews, who are ready to answer their pagers day or night, 365 days a year, we can be certain there would have been more.

‘The RNLI is unashamed and makes no apology for staying committed to and focused on the purpose we were created for, nearly 200 years ago – to save lives at sea.’

The RNLI is tasked and coordinated in the UK by HM Coastguard. If someone is in trouble in the sea, and the RNLI is tasked, the charity will launch to help them without judgement, as its crews have been doing since 1824.

Through working closely with its volunteers and staff in the south-east of England, the RNLI has developed and tested new mass rescue techniques and equipment which will help crews to save lives in the Channel. It is also hoped to deploy the equipment and share the learnings across many more of the RNLI’s 238 lifeboat stations as well with other search and rescue organisations around the world.

New equipment already in use includes inflatable horseshoe life rings and translation cards to aid communication with people from a variety of different countries.

The latest piece of rescue equipment under development is an inflatable platform known as ‘sea stairs’ which in recent testing were found to significantly increase the speed at which large numbers of people can be recovered from the water and brought onboard an all-weather lifeboat.

Head of Lifeboats Simon Ling said: ‘Potentially, this is a game-changing piece of lifesaving equipment, which we hope to roll out, not just to our crews operating in the Channel but also to other RNLI crews around the coast of the UK and Ireland.

‘We have simulated different mass rescue scenarios and the sea stairs enable our crews to recover large numbers of people from the water at high speed – which in a rescue situation could be the difference between life and death.

‘The RNLI is a world-leading search and rescue organisation with a proud history of innovation, and we have been working with our crews to develop and provide the very best practical and emotional support.

‘The new equipment and procedures may have been developed for use in mass casualty scenarios in the Channel, but they have potentially widespread lifesaving application across the RNLI - and worldwide - for responding to any incident involving large numbers of casualties, such as a passenger ferry which is sinking or on fire.

‘This kind of innovation is only possible because we have listened to the challenges our crews face in this demanding search and rescue environment and worked together on new ways we can support our teams to ensure they have the best and most suitable care, protection, equipment, and training available.

‘The sea stairs are still in development but, we believe, have the potential to save lives not just in the Channel but around the entire UK and Ireland coastlines and will also be of great interest to our search and rescue partners around the world.’

Dungeness Coxswain Stuart Adams said: ‘I joined the RNLI for one reason and that’s to help people and save lives. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the nationality, it doesn’t matter to me, we are there to save lives and that’s what we do.

‘For incidents involving numerous casualties in the water we had to come up with something we could use to speed things up and we came up with the sea stairs to make it a lot quicker to pull people out of the water.

‘Without them it’s very difficult getting casualties out of the water but, with them, crew can literally kneel, reach, grab and slide the casualties on.’

Son, and volunteer Coxswain Jason Adams added: ‘Some of the kit has been used and the horseshoes have proved to be very effective. They save lives. Without them, there’s definitely a few people who wouldn’t be here today.’

Notes to editors

  • In 2022 RNLI lifeboats launched a total of 9,312 times around the UK and Ireland with lifeboat crews and RNLI beach lifeguards saving a total of 506 lives.
  • *The RNLI defines a life saved as where the casualty would have died if not for an intervention by the RNLI, another emergency service and/or other third party.
  • The RNLI will go to the aid of anyone in trouble at sea, as the lifesaving charity has been doing for nearly 200 years, without judgement or preference.
  • Our volunteer crews are tasked in the UK by HM Coastguard to assist anyone who is in trouble on or in the water and will go to the aid of those crossing the Channel in small, unseaworthy craft, when tasked to do so.
  • Download b-roll footage and still images here of a mass casualty exercise held in Dorset on 20 April 2023 featuring the inflatable sea stairs. Please note: This was an exercise, and ALL participants were RNLI lifeboat crew or lifeguards.
  • Download interview with Dungeness crew members Stuart and Jason Adams here
  • No other interviews are available at this time.

RNLI/Nathan Williams

RNLI volunteers crew testing new rescue equipment in a training exercise in Poole, Dorset

RNLI/Nathan Williams

RNLI volunteers and lifeguards taking part in a mass casualty training exercise in Poole, Dorset

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.

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