Faces of the RNLI: ‘It feels very special to be part of this amazing charity’

Events Manager at the RNLI Support Centre, Poole Rachael Bentley transformed her lifelong dread of water into a positive when she took the leap of faith in 2015 and became an RNLI lifeboat crew member.
Rachael Bentley, crew member and Events manager at the RNLI

Photo: Nathan Williams / RNLI

Rachael is one of our 500-strong female lifeboat crew members across the UK and credits the courage of the lifeboat crews she meets as part of her work for inspiring her to overcome her own fears. 

It’s a role that has given Rachael’s life a new dimension where even going to the supermarket demands forward planning …

‘I jumped at the chance to join the volunteer crew at Poole’s Lifeboat Station, it’s one of our busiest providing a 24/7 emergency service.

‘The pager can go off anytime, all crew develop routines when they are on call. Going to the supermarket means parking in reverse near the exit for a quick getaway and at night clothes are left out ready for speed dressing at any hour.

‘When you hear the beep, the initial adrenaline rush is quickly replaced with the practicalities of getting to the station and mentally preparing for what might be expected of you. Getting there quickly and safely is crucial, especially if there’s a person in the water – then, every second counts.’

My first shout

‘Everyone remembers their first shout. Mine was mid-afternoon in April – a call-out to a stricken yacht with two people on board. 

‘The conditions that day were really strange. We left the station in brilliant sunshine but when we reached the yacht, as one of the crew worked on freeing the rope which had got tangled around the yacht’s propeller, the clouds became more foreboding. 

‘Towing the vessel back into Poole Harbour, a squally winter shower blew up, followed by lightning and driving sleet. We got everyone back safely, but it goes to show how quickly conditions at sea can change – even in a reasonably sheltered area.’

Not every shout ends well

‘Sadly, not all incidents have a positive outcome. One of my saddest shouts was a couple of years ago now, a night call-out to a person in the water off Bournemouth Pier. The inshore and all-weather lifeboat were completing search patterns. There were blue lights all along the shore and a helicopter was searching overhead. It was very dark, but one crew member spotted a glint in the water, which turned out to be the belt buckle of a man who was unconscious. 

‘We got him onto the lifeboat and commenced CPR. The crew were incredible, working as a team to do everything possible to preserve this man’s life. Then the helicopter winchman came on deck and we cleared the area, ready for the casualty to be winched off the lifeboat. It was a difficult shout, made harder because we found out the next day that, sadly, the man had not survived.

‘Although the training prepares you for these challenging shouts, it is still emotionally tough. After all, every person we go out to is a family member or a friend of someone.

'Everyone at the lifeboat station was really supportive of each other and to me, a newer crew member. What came through was the teamwork, and it made me reflect on how precious life is.’

The importance of training

‘The training we receive is first-class. Earlier this year, we were on a rough water exercise when we were tasked to respond to reports of an object in the water. The waves were confused and above average for the time of year. Several waves rolled through the boat and we really felt the power of the sea. 

‘It was pretty hairy, but I had total faith that the lifeboat, our crew and its kit and our training would keep us safe. Thankfully, when we reached the location, everything was fine, so we returned back to the station.’

The RNLI family

‘I am incredibly proud to work and volunteer for the RNLI. I meet so many inspiring people – volunteers, staff and supporters. 

‘In my day job, it’s particularly humbling to meet donors’ families. I love hearing the donors’ incredible stories, and celebrating the effort that crew, their families and the wider community put in to supporting their lifeboat station.

‘Being a volunteer at a lifeboat station makes you part of a family, you end up being friends with folk you may never have met in everyday life. At Poole Lifeboat Station we have a strong set of lifeboat medical advisors who are consultants at Poole and Bournemouth Hospital, we also have naval architects, boat builders, a fisherman, respiratory physio, surveyors, private security, drama teacher and a nurse.  

‘Around one third to a half of the crew are RNLI staff too, while others live and work locally. There’s a mix of folk with nautical experience and others who have been inspired to join as crew at the RNLI.  

‘Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, the RNLI is here to keep people safe, ready to respond whenever we are needed, day or night. It feels very special to be part of this amazing charity.’

Rachael Bentley, crew member and Events Manager at the RNLI

Photo: Nathan Williams / RNLI