Be a lifeboat station volunteer

From the shore to the lifeboat, there are a variety of volunteer roles at our lifeboat stations.
Group shot of Barmouth RNLI's station volunteers outside the boathouse

Photo: Dan Wyre

Group shot of Barmouth RNLI's station volunteers outside the boathouse

Lifeboat and shore crew

Our volunteer crew are the backbone of the lifeboat service, physically saving lives at sea. They are available 24/7, whatever the weather, to rescue those who need help.

There are 4,700 volunteer lifeboat crew members at stations around the UK and Ireland, 8% of whom are women, and another 3,000 volunteer shore crew members who support them.

Supporting the crew

In addition to the crew, it takes many more volunteers to run a lifeboat station effectively.
  • The lifeboat operations manager is in charge of authorising launches and day-to-day station management.
  • The lifeboat press officer produces press releases and promotes the station’s activity in local and regional media.
  • And the lifeboat medical adviser performs the crew's medicals and gives first aid and scenario training.

Have you got what it takes?

Imagine for a moment that you’re part of the crew on a lifeboat. It’s 2.30am on a freezing January morning and the pager’s just woken you from a deep sleep in a snug warm bed. You head out to sea in complete darkness and 10m waves rise and fall around you, ready to swamp you at any moment. Strong gale force winds throw the lifeboat around like a toy. A fishing trawler is in difficulties 23 miles out to sea.

Being part of a lifeboat crew is a major commitment, which could include risking your life.

Your commitment isn't only measured in the time spent involved in rescues. Increasingly, new equipment and faster boats mean that regular training also accounts for much of your spare time.

You may also be asked to help show visitors around the station and with local fundraising.

Our crew members need to: 

  • be over 17 years old (with the permission of your parents) or over 18
  • be under 55 years old (inshore lifeboat crew) or 65 (all-weather lifeboat crew)
  • pass a medical and eyesight test
  • be physically fit
  • live and/or work close to a lifeboat station
  • pass a probationary period that usually lasts for 1 year
  • be a team player and be accepted by the rest of the crew
  • enjoy hard physical work
  • get on well with other people
  • communicate easily
  • obey orders when required to

Medical

Due to the extreme conditions of going to sea, you are unlikely to be issued with an RNLI medical certificate if:

  • you do not meet the RNLI’s requirements for colour vision/visual acuity (see below)
  • you have had laser eye surgery in the last 3 months
  • you are liable to epileptic seizures or sudden disturbances of the state of consciousness
  • you have had a coronary thrombosis (heart attack) or have undergone heart surgery
  • your blood pressure is significantly raised and not well controlled with drugs
  • you need insulin treatment for diabetes
  • you have had a stroke, or unexplained loss of consciousness
  • you have had a severe head injury with continuing impairment
  • you suffer from Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis
  • you are being treated for mental or nervous problems
  • you have had alcohol or drug dependency problems within the last 3 years
  • you have profound deafness and cannot communicate clearly on the radio/telephone
  • you suffer from double or tunnel vision
  • you have any other condition which would/could cause problems regarding your fitness to navigate/crew a vessel
  • you suffer from any condition of bone or joint that may affect your mobility
  • you suffer from any condition that may affect bone strength or are on oral steroids.

Eyesight test

You are unlikely to meet the RNLI’s requirements for colour vision/visual acuity if:

  • there is any evidence of a colour vision defect as assessed using Ishihara plates*;
  • you are unable to read 6/6 in the better eye and 6/12 in the worst eye on the Snellen Chart from a distance of 6 metres even with glasses or contact lenses;
  • you are unable to read 6/60 with at least one eye without any visual aid;
  • you have defects in your field of vision in either eye;
  • you have evidence of any progressive disease in either eye, or suffer from any other eye condition which could limit vision either now or within the next 5 years.
  • * During the Ishihara plate test, aids for colour vision may not be worn. Up to two plates may be failed and still constitute a pass.

Still interested?

If the thrill of a shout and being part of a close-knit team appeal to you, and you have the spare time required to make a commitment, then contact your local lifeboat station.

If you don't meet these requirements but still want to volunteer in some way, your local lifeboat station would love to hear from you.

Each of our 237 lifeboat stations deals with its own recruitment. Speak to the lifeboat operations manager to find out more about the station and any volunteering opportunities on the crew or at the station.

You can also check our recruitment site for volunteering vacancies at our lifeboat stations.

Ordinary people doing an extraordinary job

Most lifeboat crew members are volunteers - ordinary people who simply and selflessly want to save lives at sea.

When the pagers go off, they drop everything and are regularly called away from their families, their beds and their work, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Only 1 in 10 lifeboat crew members has professional maritime experience - that’s where crew training comes in. Their lifesaving work is essential, often difficult and sometimes dangerous.

Coxswain

Water covering the windows of Poole RNLI’s Tyne class all-weather lifeboat, City of Sheffield 47-023, with the Coxswain at the helm

The coxswain is in charge of the all-weather lifeboat and is in command when at sea.

He/she is responsible for all the operations connected with launching the lifeboat, ensuring the safety of all the lifeboat crew onboard.

It is the coxswain's duty to do all he/she can to safeguard and rescue those in danger. At the end of a rescue, the coxswain ensures that the lifeboat is ready for service and that the equipment is all in order.

Most coxswains are volunteers, although some stations require full-time coxswains.

Helm

The helm is a volunteer in charge of the inshore lifeboat when launching, at sea and when the boat is being recovered and made ready for the next rescue.

The helm is responsible for the safety of the crew onboard and for everything that happens during a rescue.

Commander

Hunstanton RNLI lifeboat crew onboard their rescue hovercraft, The Hunstanton Flyer H-003

RNLI rescue hovercraft are used to carry out rescues on mud, sand and shallow water, making them particularly useful on estuaries and tidal mudflats.

The commander is a volunteer who is in charge of the hovercraft during launching, when on service and also at the end of a rescue when the hovercraft is being recovered to make sure it’s ready for the next rescue.

The duties of a commander are the same as for a helm at an inshore lifeboat station.

Mechanic

  Dungeness RNLI Second Mechanic and Deputy Second Coxswain Roger Gilet kneeling in front of the station’s launch and recovery tractor with his dog

Every all-weather lifeboat station has a full-time mechanic, who is responsible for maintaining the lifeboat’s engines and all the machinery at an all-weather lifeboat station.

At sea, the mechanic checks that the engines and other machinery are all working properly, as well as being part of the crew.

At stations that only have inshore lifeboats, volunteer mechanics make sure the lifeboat is ready for service through correct operation, maintenance and repair.

Crew members

St Peter Port RNLI lifeboat crew onboard their boarding boat after a successful shout

Volunteer lifeboat crew members work with the coxswain or helm to operate the lifeboat during rescues and to ensure the safety of rescuees.

As well as going out on rescues, lifeboat crew members also commit to regular training in boathandling, radio communications, casualty care, navigation and radar.

What's in it for you?

Being a lifeboat crew member is one of the most exciting and fulfilling volunteer roles available.

Volunteering with us gives you the opportunity to make a difference in your local community, to save lives and be part of the larger RNLI family.

We provide first class training, equipment, guidance and support.

But don’t just take our word for it.

What it's like to be a lifeboat station volunteer

  • Wexford lifeboat helm Lorraine Galvin

    Be inspired

    Meet our lifeboat station volunteers
  • Lifeboat crew self-righting a D class lifeboat in RNLI College’s wave tank

    Discover what's involved

    Lifeboat crew training
  • Skegness lifeboat volunteers training in rough seas in their D class inshore lifeboat, Peterborough Beer Festival lV D-739

    The difference you will make

    How your support helps