Staying safe to protect our service this summer

Our Director of Lifesaving Operations, John Payne, outlines the need to stay safe and save every one this summer.

A female RNLI lifeguard standing behind a rescue vehicle and watching the beach using binoculars on a sunny day.

Photo: Dean Wright

We are now well into our peak summer 2021 season, with millions of people expected to head to the coasts of UK and Ireland over the next couple of months. Maritime Safety Week reminds us of the need to keep ourselves safe so we can protect those who call on our services.

The environment we’re working in is different to last summer: restrictions are being eased or lifted across all our jurisdictions, holiday destinations are booked to capacity, there are new variants emerging – some of which are more infectious than others, and people are making the most of the freedoms they haven’t been afforded since last summer.

The potential for disruption to our activities is high – perhaps higher than it has been since the beginning of the pandemic. The UK government advised that they are expecting to see the number of cases continue to rise in the coming weeks and no doubt this will reflect in Ireland and all jurisdictions. And we’re already seeing the impacts on some of our lifesaving services and fundraising activities in emerging coronavirus hotspots, through both cases of infection and the impact of isolation for close contacts.

This is likely to continue for the foreseeable future so, as an organisation, we will need to proceed with more caution than the wider population. We all have a responsibility to ensure our protocols remain suitable to keep our services running and protect members of the public during this summer season. I trust that each of you will be ready and able to play your part in saving every one whenever you’re called upon to do so.

Latest announcements

There are various announcements being made as governments outline what ‘living with Covid’ looks like for those living in their jurisdictions. These include:

  • Lifting of the work from home directive
  • Ending the 1m-plus social distancing rule
  • Ending the legal obligation to wear a face covering
  • Allowing all businesses to reopen
  • Removing legal limits on the number of people who can meet indoors and outdoors – including at events
  • Changing the rules around self-isolation – especially for those who have had two doses of the coronavirus vaccine, and for children and schools
  • Removing the need for people to quarantine after travelling to the UK from an amber list country, if they have had two doses of the vaccine.

So far only the English government has communicated plans, with other announcements expected in the next few weeks. Lifting of restrictions is likely to happen at different rates across our jurisdictions.

What this means for the RNLI

Governments are moving away from legal restrictions and allowing people and organisations to make informed decisions about how to manage the virus. With that in mind, we are working out what this means for the RNLI and our activities.

I and the Executive Team believe that our lifesaving services are best protected by keeping in place the majority of the operational safety measures that already exist, until the end of the peak summer season. These measures are the result of detailed risk assessments carried out over the past 18 months both nationally and regionally. Thanks to all of you and your dedication, we have maintained our services right throughout the pandemic, and we must continue to do so in the coming months. From my perspective it is important that we allow the service to monitor the impact of the public relaxations before we further relax our protocols. More information about this will be outlined in communications planned for the next couple of weeks.

We’re also aware that our fundraising and engagement teams are keen to get back to their work – engaging our supporters and raising the money we need to keep our lifesaving services going. Thank you for the work you’re doing – I hope the lifting of restrictions will allow you to do more, whilst keeping yourselves safe and protecting our lifesaving services.

What can you do?

As already outlined, it’s important that you follow the guidelines that are in place wherever you are volunteering. If you’re not sure what they are and how they may have changed, speak to your RNLI manager for the latest information.

While getting vaccinated is not mandatory – and I fully understand that it is down to personal choice – it is the best way to protect yourself and to reduce any potential transmission to your team or crewmates. I do strongly encourage you to get both doses of the vaccine when they are offered to you.

Apart from that it really does come down to common sense and avoiding situations where you may be at risk of catching the virus or spreading it unknowingly to your teammates. And if you don’t feel comfortable in a particular RNLI environment (e.g. in a car share or returning to the office) speak to your manager to discuss alternative arrangements.

Period of adaptation

These next few months will continue to be a period of uncertainty and adaptation as the public in each jurisdiction responds to their relaxed restrictions and guidance. As we work through a long and busy season, we also need to be aware of how the changes may be impacting ourselves and our colleagues.

I understand that for some of you these changes may be causing anxiety, while others are looking forward to more interaction and collaboration in person. Some teams may see very little change in their day to day activities, while others are taking a leap into completely new ways of working. Keep talking to each other and remember the wellbeing support that is available to you if you need it.

As I said earlier, there will be impacts on our services as a result of the lifting of legal restrictions. At the start of this year we talked about slowing or pausing activities to protect our ability to deliver a safe and efficient lifesaving service. If that’s what needs to be done, then we will do it. I and the rest of the Executive Team trust you to do the right thing to make sure, as one crew, we’re ready to save lives this summer.

Thank you for everything you continue to do to save lives at sea. 

John Payne
Director of Lifesaving Operations.