Interview with the Crew: Deputy Coxswain Anna

In the second of our series of interviews with the Crew, we take a few minutes to catch up with Deputy Coxswain Anna.


Deputy Coxswain Anna

So, tell us, Anna. How did you get involved with the lifeboat crew?

It was about ten year ago, when I first moved to the coast from London. I was looking for a way to get involved with the local community and a friend suggested that I volunteer at the lifeboat station. I think she probably had the souvenir shop in mind, but when I saw that they were looking for members of the lifeboat crew itself, I just had to give it a go.

You are one of three women on the crew now. Were there many back then?

No, I was the first. There used to be a preconception that only men could be on the crew, because of the level of strength required to operate the various bits of kit. But as the lifeboats and equipment have got more advanced, it’s no longer about brute strength. And as more and more women join the RNLI’s crews, it helps others to realise that there may be a role for them, too.

Do you come from a nautical background?

No, not at all. When I lived in London, I worked as an English teacher in a secondary school. And I now run a small bookshop in town. Before joining the lifeboat crew, the most experience I’d had of the sea was going on a cross-channel ferry to France! But the RNLI has a fantastic training programme for new crews. And I now have the opportunity to pass my own knowledge on to newer members of the crew.

What does your role as Deputy Coxswain involved?

I help Coxswain Bob to manage the crew and fill in for him when he’s away. In addition to that, I run our programme of outreach activities in local schools, helping to teach the children about water safety and the work of the lifeboat service. It’s my way of staying in touch with my teaching roots, I suppose.

You must have a lot of memories from your ten years on the crew. What are your favourite?

I have vivid recollections of some of the rescues we’ve carried out. But my fondest memories are the ones of people we have rescued coming to visit us afterwards. When we’re out at sea, we rarely have time to chat with the people we’ve dragged from the water or towed in from a storm, so it’s a real pleasure to be able to sit down and have a cup of tea with them. We know that our work’s important, but talking to the people we’ve helped and hearing their stories really brings it home.

Being on the lifeboat crew is serious business. But have there been any funny moments?

Oh, yes – plenty. And very few of them intentional. Like the time we were doing a photoshoot of the lifeboat and I fell into the water while clambering from the all-weather lifeboat to the D class. So guess which photo made it into the local paper! And once my pager went off while my husband and I were at his golf club’s annual dinner, so I turned up at the station in a ball gown…

What has been the biggest change in the lifeboat service over your ten years on the crew?

I would say that it has to be the nature and amount of training that we’re able to offer to our crews. We’ve always had good training, but as the boats get more complex and the equipment that we have access to becomes more advanced, it’s important that we’re always at the top of our game. We train regularly here at the station, but we also now have fantastic training opportunities at the RNLI College in Poole. We may be volunteers, but we have access to world class facilities.

What advice would you give anyone who wants to get involved with the lifeboat service?

There are so many ways to get involved that there truly is a role for everyone. It’s often the sea-going crew that first come to mind when people think of the lifeboat service, but there are a huge number of other roles, too. Shore helpers, tractor drivers, education volunteers, fundraisers, press officers, station guides, shop volunteers… the list goes on and on. So if you think you’d like to get involved, have a look on the RNLI volunteering website. Or just pop down to your local station and have a chat.

Interview with the Crew: Coxswain Bob

We’ve seen the Crew out and about, but still know very little about the little guys. So as everyone starts to wind down towards Christmas, we take a moment to catch up with Coxswain Bob.

Coxswain Bob

Coxswain Bob

Bob, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Let’s start with some background. How long have you been on the lifeboat crew?

I’ve been a member of the crew for the past twenty years and have been coxswain for the last six.

How did you get involved with the lifeboat?

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

What does being the coxswain involve?

I’m 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 we’re out on a shout, I’m in charge of the boat and am responsible for all of the boat’s and the crew’s operations. But it’s a real team effort. We all work together to make sure that we, and any casualties, get home safely.

Sounds like a big responsibility.

Oh, it is. And it’s not a responsibility that I take lightly. The members of the crew and their families place an enormous amount of trust in me, in my skills as a coxswain and in my judgement when we’re out in sometimes terrible weather. To have earned that trust is a real honour.

How have things changed over your time on the crew?

The main change is the boats. When I first joined the crew, we were lucky to be able to make eight or nine knots. But today’s modern all-weather lifeboats can go at up to 25 knots or more. They’re much easier to launch and recover, too, which all helps to save time when it counts. And they are so much more comfortable for the crew and any casualties, which makes it much easier for us to stay sharp when we’re out all night.

What else has changed?

The crews have changed a lot, too. Not just here, but all around the coast. They’re no longer the preserve of fishermen and grizzled nautical types like me. Our crew comes from all walks of life. And we have quite a few women crew, too. But the thing that hasn’t changed is the dedication that all members of the crew show to their training and to the job that they have taken on. Not just the men and women out on the boats, but the shore crew and the many other volunteers who keep us going.

What do you do when you’re not on the lifeboat?

Just like everyone else, I have a family and a ‘day’ job. The kids are grown up now, but I still see them regularly and get to spend a lot of time with my grandchildren. Work-wise, I run the yacht brokerage and chandlery at the marina, which is right next to the lifeboat station. And I have two Labrador dogs, which fill up any free time that my wife and I might have left.

How easy is it to combine work, family and the lifeboat crew?

You get used to it. The team at work know that I sometimes need to rush off in a hurry. And my wife is exceptionally tolerant of me not always being where I’ve said I’ll be because my pager’s gone off. She worries about me when we’re out on a shout, as do the families of all of the crew members, but they know that we’ve got the very best kit and the very best training to help keep us safe.

And finally, what’s the scariest situation you’ve been in on the crew?

Personally, the scariest time was when I was told I’d been accepted as the new coxswain. To go from being a member of the crew to being in charge of the crew was a huge change for me and I was terrified that I’d do something wrong. In terms of being out on the boat, though, I remember clearly one night when we were out looking for a missing fishing boat. The sea was really rough and we flew over the top of a wave, only to fall quite some distance into the trough behind it. It was like being weightless, until we hit the water with the loudest bang I’ve ever heard. The boat is designed to handle these kinds of stresses, but for me it was a real ‘brown trouser’ moment…