The Dhaka Navigator

The ‘Dhaka Navigator’ was a headline in the RNLI’s in-house magazine some twenty years ago. Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh. Though back then, it was known as Dacca. And the ‘Navigator’ in question was my father.

In 1987, Bangladesh suffered catastrophic flooding. Over 22,000 square miles were affected, which is about 40% of the country. Hundreds of people lost their lives. Many more were made homeless. And the challenge to the country’s emergency services – getting to those in need, transporting aid, preventing the spread of disease – was immense.

Which is where my dad came into the picture. He was working at the RNLI’s HQ in Poole, with responsibility for the charity’s inshore lifeboat fleet. As a former merchant naval officer, he had travelled much of the world. And he recognised the devastation that the floods in Bangladesh had wrought.

Much of the resulting international relief operation was being organised by the Red Cross. They had people, supplies and expertise. But they had no way of getting them to where they were needed. And so they approached the RNLI.

Just days later, my dad and a colleague found themselves on a plane to Dhaka. Seconded to the Red Cross, he took with him ten decommissioned D Class lifeboats, which the RNLI had agreed to sell to the aid charity to help with its relief efforts. And my dad’s job was to teach local staff and volunteers how to use them.

Over the next few weeks, he taught rescuers and aid workers in Bangladesh how to operate the boats, how to navigate them and how to look after them. He worked with local people to bring aid and support to those who needed it. And he showed the people of Bangladesh that they were not alone. That they had friends across the world.

Upon his return, my father was saddened by the damage and loss that he had seen, but touched by the gratitude of those with whom he had worked during his time away. And the certificate of thanks, which he received from the International Committee of the Red Cross, was one of his most treasured possessions.

Today, the RNLI operates a small programme of lifesaving projects across the globe, working with local partners to help others to develop the lifesaving skills and expertise that we take for granted here in the UK. And these projects work. Whether training lifeguards, teaching people to swim or helping other countries to start their own lifeboat service, the RNLI’s international work saves lives.

It is not, of course, a huge part of what the RNLI does. The charity’s UK lifeboat stations and lifeguard units will always come first. But with drowning claiming some 320,000 lives each year around the world, it is incumbent upon us to use our skills and expertise to do what we can to help.

Because all lives are precious. And all those in distress are deserving of our support, regardless of race, religion or nationality. It’s what I think. It’s what my father, the ‘Dhaka Navigator’, thought. And I hope that it’s what you think, too.

You can find out more about the RNLI’s international projects here.

Inspiring the next generation

This weekend just gone, our town of Portishead celebrated its annual ‘Window Wanderland‘ event, where people – whether individuals, shops or community groups – create a lit display in their window that others can wander around and admire. And my fellow volunteers at the lifeboat station and I were, as usual, keen to get involved.

Window Wanderland - Portishead LBS

We wanted to come up with something that was specific to the RNLI, while recognising our distinct lack of artistic talent. And the photo shows what we came up with. Which is fairly nice, I think.

In fact, our lifeboat operations manager was so taken with it that he’s considering getting someone with more talent than me (it’s a fairly large pool) to paint it properly onto the windows.

In additon to our window display (and a much superior display in the windows of our lifeboat station shop), we also opened up the doors and had volunteers on hand to show people around. And around eighty visitors showed up to say hello, which was great, especially as it was quite nippy out.

One visiting family in particular really made my day. A couple with three young children, they’d raced up to the lifeboat station and has listened enthralled as I showed them the boat, the tractor and the associated bits of kit in the boathouse. As they were preparing to leave, one of the parents asked their daughter – who must have been about six – if she’d like to be on the lifeboat crew one day.

She looked sad for a moment and explained that she couldn’t, as she was planning to become an engineer. I told her that our crew members are all volunteers and have actual day jobs in addition to being on the crew. So it would be no problem at all for her to be an engineer and an RNLI crew member. Her face lit up and she said that, in that case, she would definitely sign up when she is old enough.

Just a fleeting conversation, to be sure. But it really made my day. And made the three hours I spent cutting out cardboard letters absolutely worthwhile.

We’re back


We’ve been away for a little while. Sorry. Work, family life and a new puppy (yay!) have meant that things have been a little hectic here at Crew HQ. But we’re back now. So keep an eye out here for news about what we’re up to, as well as essential coastal safety tips. And remember that we’re on twitter and facebook, too.

Have fun. Stay safe. And respect the water.

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.