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RNLI volunteers save life of young sailor with serious head injury

Lifeboats News Release

A young man’s life was saved after Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Swanage lifeboat crew was called out in challenging conditions.

Volunteer Swanage Crew Dave Turnbull (Coxswain) and Gavin Steeden (Deputy Second Coxswain) on Swanage lifeboat slipway

Olly Rose

SLAS Series 8 Swanage Crew Dave Turnbull and Gavin Steeden

Battling swells of two metres and high winds at night, RNLI volunteers launched to reports of a serious medical emergency on a yacht off the coast of Dorset.

The dramatic rescue will feature in episode two of the new series of the popular TV show Saving Lives at Sea on BBC Two this Thursday at 8pm.

Featuring footage captured on helmet and boat cameras, viewers witness dramatic rescues through the eyes of RNLI lifesavers while meeting the people behind the pagers and those rescued by the charity’s lifesavers.

Volunteer RNLI Swanage crew member Gav Steeden said: ‘It was howling with wind outside and there was a big swell on. We were all surprised to hear that anybody was out sailing.

‘When I got on board and saw the casualty, I thought I’d rarely seen a guy who looked more like he was going to die – it scared the life out of me. I had to take a deep breath and get on with it as he was seriously hurt.’

None of the yacht’s crew witnessed what had happened first hand, so for highly-trained first aider Gav, the injuries that 20-year-old sailor Josh had sustained proved difficult to diagnose.

Gav said: ‘Being unable to diagnose what’s going on inside somebody, it’s like having one hand tied behind your back. But, you have to remain focused on what you can do, not on what you can’t do – so we had to be really careful in monitoring his condition.

‘We got him on oxygen and kept him reassured to keep his heart rate down, but he was dropping in and out of consciousness every few minutes. The thing that will stay with me is just how terrified Josh looked. He doesn’t know what’s happened and he doesn’t really get where he is.’

A coastguard helicopter winched a paramedic down to the boat to assist, and they made the call to transfer Josh to the lifeboat to be taken to a waiting ambulance on shore.

The crew skilfully manoeuvred the casualty on a stretcher from the deck of the yacht to the lifeboat and on reaching shore he was transferred to hospital.

Gav said: ‘A lot of the time when you get back from a shout, you’re relieved that you got somewhere - and when you left they were better. But Josh had got no better – it was a weird feeling. I didn’t sleep very well that night thinking, did I miss something?’

The next morning, though, Josh called RNLI Swanage Lifeboat Station to thank the crew, having been diagnosed with a severe concussion. He was kept in hospital for three days under observation but discharged with no lasting side effects.

Josh said: ‘I don’t really remember what happened, but I went below deck to change my lifejacket as mine was playing up and I fell and hit my head on a table, and after that I don’t really remember anything.

‘Gav was great; he just handled the situation really well. You could just feel his reassuring presence and that kept me calm. I’m so grateful the RNLI volunteers were there to help that day – I don’t know what would have happened without them.’

The popular 10-part documentary is now in its eighth series and includes the lifesaving work of the charity’s volunteer lifeboat crews from around the UK and Ireland.

The rescue will feature, along with three others, in the second episode of the series on Thursday 5 October at 8pm on BBC Two and will also be available on BBC iPlayer following broadcast.

Including many other interviews with lifeboat crews from across the UK and Ireland, the series also hears from the rescuees and their families who, thanks to RNLI lifesavers, are here to tell the tale.

Gav said: ‘Our lifesaving work would not be possible without donations from the public and we are delighted to be able to share a frontline view of the rescues they support with their kind generosity.’

In 2022, RNLI lifeboat crews around the UK and Ireland launched 9,312 times, saving 389 lives, while the charity’s lifeguards saved 117 lives on some of the UK’s busiest beaches.

If you get inspired to volunteer with the RNLI by the series, there are a variety of roles from lifeboat crew, to fundraiser, lifeguard to shop volunteer. Fund out more at

Notes to Editors

Media contacts

For more information please contact Tom Dale on 07977 157 959 or [email protected]. Alternatively, call the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 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 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.