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.

Interview with the Crew: Crew Member Susie

In the last of our series of interviews with members of the crew, we take a few minutes over a cup of coffee to catch up with Crew Member Susie.

Susie

Susie, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. So tell me, how long have you been on the crew?

Ouch. Ooh. Erm, thorry. One thecond.

What’s the matter? Have we touched on a delicate topic already?

Oh, no. Not at all. It’s just that I’ve burned my tongue on the coffee. It’s really hot. Damn. Now I’m going to sound like Jar Jar Binks.

[Giggles] I’m sure you won’t.

Anyway, as I was saying, how long have you been on the crew?

I joined the crew a couple of years ago. I wanted to join sooner, but it didn’t really fit in with my job. But now things are a lot more flexible work-wise, which is great.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a garden designer. There are a few of us here who got together to start up our own design practice. And we’ve been working non-stop ever since. I trained originally as a gardener and then did a course in garden design. It’s great to be there at the very start of a project and to then see it right through to being a living garden.

What do your colleagues think about you being on the lifeboat crew?

They’re really supportive. But they also find it quite funny, because when we get called out on a shout I charge out of the building like an impatient rhino. Our office is only a couple of hundred yards from the lifeboat station, so I’m usually one of the first there when our pagers go off.

What about your clients? What do they think?

When I first meet any of my clients, I explain that I’m on the crew and that I might need to go off on a shout. They’re always really great about it. They respect that I’m doing it to help people and that I’ll always do my best to make sure that the work I’m doing for them goes according to plan. [Smiles]

Why are you smiling?

I was just thinking. I do a lot of work with garden landscapers, who are generally quite a gruff and macho bunch. They often take the mickey when they find out that they’re working with a garden designer, but when they learn that I’m on the lifeboat crew they treat me as one of the lads.

Do you get that a lot? Do people treat you differently because you’re on the lifeboat crew?

Not really differently, as such. But I do find that being on the crew engenders a degree of trust among people. Just as you’d tend to trust a police officer or a teacher. Neighbours ask me to keep an eye on their houses while they’re away. People in the local shops let me pay later if I don’t have enough cash on me.

And what do your family think about you being on the crew?

My mum and dad always worry a little. I have two brothers in the army, but I’ll always be my parents’ little girl and they’re very protective. I think they’d much prefer it if I stayed at home and prepared planting plans and things like that. But they know that we have the very best boats and protective kit, as well as an extremely high level of training. They live in the town and usually see the lifeboat if it’s heading out, so I always make sure to give them a quick call when I get back.

Interview with the Crew: Crew Member Jackie

Having already caught up with Coxswain Bob, Deputy Coxswain Anna, Mechanic Dave and Crew Member Steve, this week we learn a little more about Crew Member Jackie.

Jackie

Crew Member Jackie

Hello, Jackie. How’s your week going so far?

Busy, as usual. But when you’re a doctor, a spouse, a mother and a lifeboat crew member, spare time isn’t one of those things that you have a lot of…

You’re a doctor?

Yes, I’m a general practitioner at the town’s medical centre. I used to work in the emergency department of a busy city hospital, but I realised gradually that I wanted to be able to get to know my patients a little more and to get experience of a broader range of injuries and ailments.

And you have children, too?

Yes, two girls and a boy. Rachel is twelve, Sarah is nine and little Archie is seven. Though I suppose I shouldn’t call him ‘little’ Archie any more. He really won’t like that.

How do you manage to balance your work and home life with the demands of being on the lifeboat crew?

Well, my work at the surgery is quite structured, which helps a lot. I see patients on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, so I’m not available for ‘shouts’ during the daytime on those days, but on Tuesdays and Fridays I’m a lot more flexible and can go out on the boat if my pager goes off. My husband, Ben, is a teacher at the local secondary school and is usually at home during the evening and at weekends, so he holds the fort if we get called out then.

I’m exhausted just hearing about it.

It’s really not that bad. We have our routine and the rest of the lifeboat crew know when I’m available and when I’m not. Like most stations, we have a big calendar showing everyone’s availability, so the Lifeboat Operations Manager or Coxswain can identify any gaps and do something about them.

The crew must really value your medical expertise.

Well, all members of the crew are given casualty care training, which is really very good and allows them to deal with most of the medical situations they’re likely to face. But yes, sometimes it’s helpful to have a doctor on board. And if they need advice when I’m not there, they can get put through to the surgery so that I or one of my colleagues can help them.

What made you join the lifeboat crew?

I’ve always been into watersports, from sailing and kayaking to – more recently – open water swimming and stand-up paddleboarding. I know how much pleasure these things can give people, but I also know how dangerous they can be. Sometimes it’s because people don’t understand the risks or because they don’t have the right equipment, but sometimes things just go wrong even if you’ve done everything right. I wanted to be able to help people who get into trouble at sea, regardless of the reason, so joining the lifeboat crew seemed the logical thing to do.

What’s the best thing about being on the crew?

For me, it’s the knowledge that I’m giving something back to a community that has given me so much. Whenever we launch the lifeboat, I’m always very aware that it could be one of my patients or one of my husband’s students who is in trouble.

And what do your colleagues and patients say when they see you racing off to the boathouse?

As a GP, I’m used to getting stopped in the street or when I’m out shopping. But when people see me running down the road towards the harbour they know what’s going on and they know that I need to get there as quickly as possible. On one occasion, a patient who happened to be driving past even gave me a lift in his car. One of the great things about the lifeboat is that it really does seem to belong to the whole town. And the overwhelming support of everyone here really does make a difference.

Interview with the Crew: Crew Member Steve

After the chaos of the bank holiday weekend, we take a moment to catch up with Crew Member Steve.

Crew Member Steve

Crew Member Steve

So, Steve, how long have you been on the Crew?

I’ve been on the Crew for a couple of years now. I started as shore crew initially, but after six months or so was invited to join the boat crew.

Do you have a nautical background?

Yes, I do. My family are all keen sailors and I’ve been on the water since I was a baby. I worked as a sailing instructor when I was younger and now work for the harbour master here, helping to make sure that everything runs smoothly.

That sounds like quite a fun job.

Oh, it is. I really love doing what I do. But it would be nice to be able to average things out across the year. We’re really quiet in the winter and then things go absolutely nuts in the summer when all of the tourists and visiting yachts arrive. My nine to five job quickly becomes a round-the-clock marathon. But I get paid by the hour, so I suppose I really shouldn’t grumble.

And then you’re on the lifeboat crew, too. Doesn’t it all get a bit much?

Not at all. We have a fair number of shouts, especially during the summer period, but it’s just what I do. Despite the massive inflow of tourists in the summer, the actual community here is really tight knit and we all look out for each other. To be honest, when the opportunity arose to volunteer at the station, I didn’t give it a second thought. I just signed up and took it from there.

What’s the best thing about being on the Crew?

It’s definitely the sheer glamour of it all! [We have to stop the interview briefly here as Steve descends into uncontrollable giggles.] Er, no. Sorry. Actually, there’s very little glamour, I’m afraid. The best thing, though, is definitely the sense of camaraderie among the crew. And not just the boat crew, but the shore crew, the Lifeboat Management Group, the fundraisers and everyone else who helps to keep the station up and running.

What does it feel like when your pager goes off?

Let’s be honest, it’s a massive adrenaline rush. But it’s become much more of an automatic reaction now. I just stop whatever I’m doing, make sure I’m leaving everything safely, and get to the lifeboat station as quickly as I can. My family and colleagues all know the deal and they’re very supportive. I suppose the thing that flashes through my mind is that I never know whether I’ll be gone for just a few minutes or several hours.

What’s it like being on a longer shout?

It depends on why it’s a longer shout. It might be that the casualty is quite a long way out to sea, in which case we spend a lot of time in our seats, planning what we’ll do when we get there, or towing someone back in. Or it might be a long, drawn-out search for a missing kayaker or something like that, which takes its toll both physically and mentally. I’d say that the initial adrenaline buzz from the pager alert gets you through the first thirty minutes of any shout, but it’s the team spirit among the crew that get’s you through the rest.

And finally, what’s this I hear about you and Crew Member Susie. Are you an item?

Ah. Erm. [Steve blushes the same colour as his lifejacket.] I don’t know what you’re talking about. Erm. What? Sorry, no idea what you mean. Beep beep beep. Oh, gosh. Is that my pager?

No, that was you saying ‘beep beep beep’.

What? No. Sorry, I’ve got to go. Erm, yes. Gotta go. Really sorry. Er, bye.

Hmm.

Interview with the Crew: Mechanic Dave

In the latest of our series of interviews with the Crew, we take a few minutes to catch up with Mechanic Dave.

Dave

Mechanic Dave

So, Dave. What is the mechanic’s role at the station?

Well, I’m 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 we use.

I also keep an eye on the condition of the boat itself, so that I can tell when other repairs or maintenance are needed. The same goes for the boathouse, too. There’s always something that needs doing.

And when we go out on exercise or on a shout, I keep an eye on the engines and the other bits of mechanical kit. They can take a bit of a pounding at times, so it’s a a case of making sure that everything’s running smoothly and that any issues are addressed quickly.

That sounds like a lot of work.

It’s OK if you keep on top of it. Because we never know what the boat will be called upon to do, everything has to be in tip-top condition at all times. I have a list of daily checks and then other things that I do every week or every month. And if anything major needs doing, I can get on to it straight away.

How does this all fit around your day job?

This is my day job. I’m the only paid, full-time member of the Crew, so the lifeboat station is my place of work. When we go out on a shout, though, I’m a volunteer like everyone else. Just better looking.

What does an average working day look like?

I’m not sure there’s such a thing as an average day here, as so much depends on the time of year, the weather and what else is going on. But I generally get to the station at about half past eight and spend a couple of hours doing my daily checks on the boat and the other bits of kit around the station.

I then spend another couple of hours working through things on my to-do list. Our volunteer lifeboat press officer usually calls by at some point during the morning and will sometimes show a school group around the station. So I’ll have a quick cup of tea with her and, if she has a group with her, will try to take a few minutes to say hello and to tell them about the lifeboat.

After lunch, I usually have some paperwork to catch up on. This includes keeping records of the maintenance work that I have done, ordering new bits and pieces for the boat and generally keeping up to date with what’s going on. In the afternoons, I try to tackle larger jobs, usually things that I’ve notice need doing but that will take a bit more time.

And just like the rest of the Crew, my pager can go off at any time. Although it usually goes off just after five o’clock, when I’m thinking about heading home for my dinner!

What makes being a mechanic at a lifeboat station different from being a mechanic at, say, a local garage?

Two things, I’d say. Firstly, the immense variety of things that I get to work on, from the boat and the tractor to the machinery in the boathouse. It’s not just putting new exhausts on family saloons here! And secondly, because the lifeboat has to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, I can’t leave a job half-done. There’s no taking something apart and then wandering off for a cup of tea.

Sounds complicated.

It’s not really. There’s a lot to do, but if you’re organised then it’s not too bad. And we have a huge amount of back-up from the rest of the RNLI. For example, if our boat needs to be taken ‘off service’ for a major service or repairs, then we can get a ‘relief’ lifeboat to take her place. And when we get new pieces of kit, there’s detailed training on how it works and how I need to maintain it.

I’m not sure how you manage to stay on top of it all.

Checklists. Lots of checklists. And a good feel for how things work. It’s something that mechanics develop over time. Like a sixth sense. The ginger ninja, that’s me.