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North Berwick RNLI celebrates International Women's Day

Lifeboats News Release

With International Women’s Day around the corner (8 March 2023) the RNLI are highlighting the many lifesaving roles held by the women who volunteer for the charity in North Berwick.

RNLI/Tom Kerley

Women of North Berwick RNLI (L to R; Sarah Coutts, Yvonne Fairholm, Rhona Meikle, Sandra Castro, Vikki Selby)

Women have been an integral part of the RNLI in North Berwick since the first lifeboat, the Caroline, was placed on station in 1860. An article from the RNLI’s Lifeboat magazine by Joan Davies in 1975 described how in ‘the old days’ the ‘womenfolk of the town…were always there to help with the launch and recovery’, easing the old wooden pulling and sailing lifeboat ‘down the slipway by manning drag ropes’.

It also recounts the work they carried out behind the scenes, on one occasion taking nearly two days to clean the lifeboat, ‘using margarine’, when she came back from a rescue covered in tar.

That tradition continues today, although there’s less margarine involved, with shore crew Sandra Castro and Yvonne Fairholm. They are involved with the launch and recovery of the lifeboat on service and exercise and are integral to the overall upkeep of the station, lifeboat and lifesaving equipment.

Since the 1990s women have also gone afloat on the lifeboat with Fiona Cesari being the first woman on the crew in North Berwick. Currently, the lifeboat crew includes Rhona Meikle, who is the Senior Helm and longest serving crew member, Sarah Coutts who faced near gale force winds on a recent call out and Vickki Selby who is the newest and youngest crew member.

Many of the crew are double hatted, with Rhona acting as a voluntary Lifeboat Press Officer, and Yvonne as the station Visits Co-ordinator.

Fiona Cesari, the first woman to volunteer as a crew member at North Berwick said: ‘I joined in the early 90s and it certainly ruffled a few feathers, although I didn’t join for any reason other than I loved the sea.’

‘It was tough at times, I’m not going to lie; even the kit wasn’t really designed for women. I remember on one call out to a crashed microlight aircraft my drysuit started filling up with water as it didn’t fit properly.’

‘I look back and it almost feels as though that person wasn’t me. I'm glad I joined the crew as I met some wonderful people and had some fantastic experiences.’

Rhona Meikle, who was the first woman to become a D class Helm in North Berwick, said: ‘I’ve been involved with the RNLI for 25 years now and the crew is like a second family. They’re always there, no matter what is happening in your life, the crew is a constant and you know exactly how you fit in. I’m proud to be part of something that means so much to a coastal town.’

Vikki Selby, newest crew member said: ‘I wanted to join as my brother has been a volunteer for a number of years, and if he can do it, why can’t I! It has been great to slot right into the crew, learning all about lifeboat and procedures and I’m looking forward to getting on my first shout so I can put all the training to good use.’

Less colourfully clad, but no less important are the host of shop volunteers and fundraisers from the North Berwick and Gullane Fundraising Branch who raise vital funds to cover the cost of the RNLI’s lifesaving work in North Berwick and further afield.

The shop volunteers, headed up by Jill Sim, have recently been smashing previous fundraising records, with ‘our wee shop’ becoming one of the best performing RNLI shops in Scotland.

Irene Urquhart is a veteran fundraiser at North Berwick, who continues to raise vital lifesaving funds including on her 90th Birthday when she raised £1,800 for the RNLI.

Irene said ‘I have thoroughly enjoyed raising funds for such a worthwhile charity over the many years that I have been involved. I really admire what the crew do, and I feel proud that the funds I raise help save lives.’

Perhaps the most important woman on station however is Evelyn M, the D class inshore lifeboat which has been saving lives in North Berwick since 2013. She was funded by the Miss Evelyn M Murdoch Charitable Trust who manage the estate of Evelyn Murdoch who was a regular visitor to North Berwick in her childhood. Her generous legacy has launched on service 168 times rescuing 134 people and saving 9 lives since 2013.

Notes to editors

  • ‘The Phoenix was Inflatable, North Berwick - Oar to Outboard’ by Joan Davies, first published in Lifeboat Magazine, 1975 is available to view here.

  • There have been 17 women to volunteer as lifeboat crew in North Berwick since the 1990s. Currently, 20% of the crew are women.

  • The RNLI are currently recruiting for volunteer fundraisers in North Berwick, more details here.

  • For library footage, photos, or interview requests please contact voluntary Deputy Lifeboat Press Officer, North Berwick [email protected]

RNLI media contacts

Matthew Gibbons, Deputy Lifeboat Press Officer, North Berwick, [email protected]

Natasha Bennett, RNLI Regional Media Officer for Scotland, 07826 900639, [email protected]

Martin Macnamara, RNLI Regional Media Manager for Scotland, 07920 365929, [email protected]

24 hour RNLI Central Press Office, 01202 336789 or email [email protected]

RNLI/Tom Kerley

Women of North Berwick RNLI (L to R; Vikki Selby, Sandra Castro, Sarah Coutts, Yvonne Fairholm, Rhona Meikle)

RNLI/Tom Kerley

Women of North Berwick RNLI (L to R; Rhona Meikle, Yvonne Fairholm, Vikki Selby, Sandra Castro, Sarah Coutts)

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.