Attention runners and walkers

Like many others out there, I’m a keen runner and walker. And I like nothing more than pulling on my trainers and heading out for a gentle trot by the coast. But while this does wonders for my cardiovascular health and for my general mood, it can be a risky activity.

According to the Royal Life Saving Society, between 2012 and 2016, 300 people across the UK lost their lives to drowning whilst running or walking by the water – that’s an average of 60 lives lost per year.

Indeed, I had my own minor brush with potential calamity a couple of years ago, when I was running along the South West Coast Path near Falmouth in Cornwall.

I was negotiating a particularly steep bit of path, when a Coastguard helicopter flew overhead. I stopped briefly to watch it, when suddenly the path beneath my feet gave way and I found myself flat on my face and sliding towards the significant drop towards the rocks below.

Thankfully, I didn’t slide very far and was able to scramble back up to the path. But I was a little shaken and bleeding somewhat from a fairly sizeable gash on my leg. I was able to clean myself up, though, and continued on my run – though at a slower pace and paying a lot more attention to my surroundings.

Because I tend to go running either on my own or with my dog, and because I usually run off-road (and frequently in quite remote locations), I always take a number of precautions. And I would urge anyone else who runs or walks either by the water or anywhere remote to do the same.

  1. Always tell someone where you are going and when you will be back. Also, be very clear with them what they should do if you are not back by your cut-off time. For me, I ask them to dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard (if I’m running near the coast), Mountain Rescue (if I’m running in a remote area – though note that you have to ask for the Police and then Mountain Rescue), or the Police (for anywhere else).
  2. Take a basic first aid kit – and know how to use it. Think about the sort of injuries that you could sustain and make sure you’re able to deal with them. Whenever I go running, I carry a small pouch with a couple of wound dressings, a compression bandage, some tape, a load of plasters and an emergency blanket. And I take a more comprehensive kit if I’m going on a longer or more remote trek.
  3. Have a means of calling for help in an emergency. For the RNLI, the Coastguard, Mountain Rescue or anyone else to be able to help you, they need to know two things. Firstly, they need to know that you are in trouble. And secondly, they need to know where you are. I always carry a whistle, a torch and a mobile phone (in a waterproof case). And if I’m going anywhere remote, I also take a personal locator beacon (PLB).
  4. Pay close attention to your surroundings. The best way to stay safe is to not get into trouble in the first place. So if you are running or walking by the coast, for example, stay off rocks and stay clear from the edges of cliffs. And be aware of tide times. If I’m out alone, I take great care to avoid putting myself into a situation where I could slip, trip, fall or get cut off by the tide. And if I’m running with my dog, I make sure that she’s under close control, too.

The Royal Life Saving Society is running a UK Runners and Walkers awareness campaign from 1st to 7th January, warning the public to be extra careful around water. This is because runners and walkers have the highest incidence of accidental drowning. You can find out more online.

Don’t drink and drown this Christmas

Research indicates that roughly one in four adult victims of drowning have alcohol in their bloodstream. And it is at Christmas time, with its office parties and general merriment, that people can be most at risk. In the West of England, where the little guys are based, several young people have drowned tragically in recent years. Including one in Portishead Marina, just yards from the lifeboat station.

Because of this, the little guys are delighted to support the Royal Life Saving Society‘s ‘Don’t drink and drown’ campaign.

The campaign, which runs from 4th to 10th December, warns drinkers to steer clear of walking by or entering water when under the influence of alcohol.

Here are some of the RLSS’s top tips to stay safe this Christmas:

  • Don’t enter the water if you have been drinking
  • Remember that alcohol seriously affects your ability to get yourself out of trouble
  • Look out for your friends – make sure they get home safely
  • Don’t walk home near water, because you might fall in

Alcohol lowers inhibitions, leading to impaired judgment, which means you are more likely to take risks and get into trouble. It also slows down your reactions, numbs your senses and makes simple movements much harder.

So just because you can drink like a fish, it doesn’t mean that you can swim like one. And if you do get into trouble, you may not be able to get yourself out of it. Falling into cold water, especially in the dark, could mean that a great night out ends in a tragic, terrifying and lonely death.

To find our how you can support the RLSS’s ‘Don’t drink and drown’ campaign, and potentially help to save a life, go to their special campaign website. And if you go out for a drink this Christmas, please stay away from the water.

Now that’s what I call a visitor centre

It’s been a while since I last wrote about what the little guys have been up to. Sorry. But that isn’t to say that they haven’t been doing anything. It’s just that I’ve been a little too busy to tell you all about it. Sorry, again. I’ll try to get my priorities right in future.

Just a few weeks ago, the Crew headed further down into the South West to Dartmouth, which is easily one of their (and my) favourite hangouts. I’ve written previously about our visit to the lifeboat station there, but on this occasion we had another destination in mind. Because we’d heard great things about the new RNLI Visitor Centre in the town.

And it turns out that the things we’d heard were right on the money. Because the Visitor Centre, which is situated on the South Embankment near to the lower ferry, is truly amazing.

For a start, it has a D class lifeboat (formerly on service at Southend, I understand) smack bang in the middle of it, which is always going to get the Crew smiling…


And it has a big screen (well, big if you’re only an inch and a half tall) showing footage of daring RNLI rescues from around the coast.


It’s highly educational, too, with information on the history of the Dart lifeboat and of the RNLI. As well as the opportunity to watch a short film and to get your photo taken. Yes, it really is all bang up to date.


And if that wasn’t enough, there’s even a particularly well-stocked RNLI shop, thanks to which the little guys have now completed their Christmas shopping and have stocked up on birthday presents for each other for the next decade or so.


So if you’re planning to head down to Dartmouth, or even if you’re not, do make sure you pop in to the RNLI Visitor Centre. If it was a restaurant, it would definitely get a Michelin star. But it’s got a D class, which is clearly far superior.

The little guys visit RNLI HQ

We hear it all the time when we’re out and about. ‘Poole’ did this. ‘Poole’ said that. Oh, you’ll need to check with ‘Poole’. The RNLI’s headquarters in this Dorset town have taken on an almost mythical status across the organisation. But things recently got a whole lot more real for the little guys. Because they managed to wangle themselves an invitation to visit this throbbing heart of all things lifeboat.

We travelled down the night before, so as to avoid any last minute traffic-related hiccups. Which had the added bonus that we got to stay in the extremely pleasant RNLI College, a home-away-from-home for lifeboat crews developing their skills. And also, I should probably add, available for courses, conferences and short breaks.

College Reception

The following day, we didn’t have anything scheduled until mid-morning, so while the Crew got themselves ready, I put on my trainers and went for a run down to the beach at Sandbanks. As I lolloped slowly around the harbour, memories of a youth spent sailing between the islands and working on the harbour cruise boats came flooding back…

Back at HQ, our first activity was a tour of the College itself – with the highly knowledgeable and extremely pleasant Chris as our guide. Now, I’ll tell you more about our tour in another blog post at some point, but suffice to say that the College is – to put it quite simply – awesome. And that’s before we even start to talk about the lifeboat simulator. It was so realistic, the Crew were wobbling around on their sea-legs for quite some time afterwards.

Sim 11

After lunch in the College restaurant, it was off to the All-Weather Lifeboat Centre (ALC), this time with naval architect Dan and Ross, the man behind the ‘Respect the Water’ campaign and the kind soul who had invited us to visit in the first place.

ALC Sign

The little guys were delighted to see several Shannon lifeboats under construction and really enjoyed having the opportunity to see the parts that other tours, quite frankly, just cannot reach.

ALC Assembly 2

Our last (but by no means least) stop was the Sir William Hillary building, to visit the coastal safety, social media and marketing teams. The Crew and I were overwhelmed, to be honest, that so many people were happy – keen, even – to take time out of their busy schedules to tell us more about what they do.


As I said, we’ll tell you more about our visit in future blog posts. Suffice to say for the moment that, if you ever get presented with the opportunity to visit the RNLI HQ in Poole, seize it with both hands. Because it’s a great place with great people doing great work. And it most definitely lives up to the myth that surrounds it.

Do the Crew have names? Sure they do.

One of the questions I get asked the most when I’m out and about with the Crew is whether each of the little guys has a name. And my answer is always the same. Of course they have names. In fact, they even have day jobs, families and hobbies, too. So I thought it’s about time I introduced them properly.

So here’s The Lifeboat Crew. They may not be very big, but what they lack in stature, they more than make up for in enthusiasm, skill and tenacity.

We’ve got:

[L-R] Mechanic Dave, Coxswain Bob, Crew Member (and doctor) Jackie, Crew Member Steve, Crew Member (and ace helmsperson) Susie and Deputy Coxswain Anna.

The Crew

Let’s learn a little more about each of them.

Coxswain Bob has been a member of the crew for the past twenty years and has been coxswain for the last six. As Coxswain, Bob’s responsible for the boat and for the crew. This includes making sure that the boat is ready to go at all times and that the crew have everything they need to operate safely. When the crew are out on a shout, he’s in charge of the boat and responsible for all of the boat’s and the crew’s operations.

Bob was born and brought up on the coast and his father was on the lifeboat crew for as long as Bob can remember. After finishing school, Bob went away to work but the lure of the sea was too strong and he eventually found his way back here – though this time with a wife and kids in tow. Even though his dad had retired from the lifeboat crew by then, it didn’t take long for Bob to sign up.

Read an interview with Coxswain Bob.

Deputy Coxswain Anna helps Coxswain Bob to manage the crew and fills in for him when he’s away. And she was the first female crew member in the station’s history. In addition to her work with the boat, Anna runs the station’s programme of outreach activities in local schools, helping to teach children about water safety and the work of the lifeboat service.

A former secondary school English teacher, Anna joined the crew about ten years ago, when she first moved to the coast from London. She was looking for a way to get involved with the local community and a friend suggested that Anna volunteer at the lifeboat station. Anna suspects that her friend probably had the souvenir shop in mind, but when Anna saw that they were looking for members of the lifeboat crew itself, she just had to give it a go.

Read an interview with Deputy Coxswain Anna.

Mechanic Dave is responsible for the maintenance of the lifeboat’s engines and for all of the machinery at the station. This includes the tractor, the winch in the boathouse and everything else that the crew use. He also keeps an eye on the condition of the boat itself, as well as the boathouse, so that he can tell when other repairs or maintenance are needed. And when the crew go out on exercise or on a shout, Dave keeps an eye on the engines and the other bits of mechanical kit, to make sure that everything’s running smoothly.

While the rest of the crew are volunteers and have to fit their responsibilities around their day jobs, for Dave this is his day job. He’s the only paid, full-time member of the Crew, so the lifeboat station is his place of work. When the crew go out on a shout, though, he’s a volunteer like everyone else. He’s also extremely organised. Because with the lifeboat having to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, he can’t leave a job half-done. There’s no taking something apart and then wandering off for a cup of tea.

Read an interview with Mechanic Dave.

Crew Member Jackie is a general practitioner at the town’s medical centre. She’s also mother to three young children: Rachel (twelve), Sarah (nine) and ‘little’ Archie (seven). Jackie sees patients at the surgery on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, so isn’t usually available for ‘shouts’ during the daytime on those days, but on Tuesdays and Fridays – as well as in the evenings and at weekends – she’s a lot more flexible and can go out on the boat if her pager goes off.

While all members of the crew are given casualty care training, which allows them to deal with most of the medical situations they’re likely to face, it’s often helpful to have a doctor on board, too. And if the crew need advice when Jackie’s not there, they can get put through to the surgery so that she or one of her colleagues can help them. A keen watersports enthusiast, Jackie’s well known around the town – whether in the surgery or charging down the street, beeping pager in hand.

Read an interview with Crew Member Jackie.

Crew Member Steve joined the station’s shore crew at first and was asked to join the boat crew a couple of years ago. A keen sailor from a nautical family, Steve’s day job is working for the harbour master, so he’s on the water practically twenty four hours a day. Especially in the summer, when the arrival of hundreds of tourist yachts – and the station’s busiest time of the year – keeps him on his toes.

Steve confesses that, while his pager going off still gives him a bit of an adrenaline rush, it’s become much more of an automatic reaction now. He just stops whatever he’s doing, makes sure he’s leaving everything safely, and gets to the lifeboat station as quickly as he can. As with the rest of the crew, Steve’s family and colleagues all know the deal and are extremely supportive of the station’s work.

Read an interview with Crew Member Steve.

Crew Member Susie is a garden designer who recently set up her own design practice with a group of friends. And one of the consequences of this job change was that she finally had the time and the flexibility to join the lifeboat crew. Her office is only a couple of hundred yards from the lifeboat station, so she’s usually one of the first there when the crew’s pagers go off. Much to the amusement of her colleagues, though, when she charges out of the building, in her words, ‘like an impatient rhino’.

When Susie first meets any of her clients, she explains that she’s on the crew and that she might need to go off on a shout. Thankfully, she says, they’re always really great about it. Susie thinks that her parents, though, who also live in the town, would much prefer it if she ‘stayed at home and prepared planting plans and things like that’. So when she gets back from a shout, she always remembers to give them a call to say that she’s arrived home safely.

Read an interview with Crew Member Susie.