My Life with the RNLI

1st June 2018

Chris Speers

By day I am a senior designer at Bright Blue Day in Bournemouth, where one of our clients is the RNLI.

By evening, and on weekends, I am a volunteer RNLI lifeboat crew member at Poole lifeboat station. My pager gets turned on and I am ready to respond at a moment’s notice, ready to go to sea to assist those who need it. As volunteers, we live close to the station and are usually on call to drop everything in response to a ‘shout’. 

How it started…

I grew up on the coast in a little lifeboat town called Portrush in Northern Ireland. Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated with the sea and regularly watched the local lifeboat go on exercise at the weekends. Fast forward several years, and I decided to join the crew.

The RNLI is a big part of my life and I find it incredibly rewarding to contribute through my career and in my spare time. Both roles are very time consuming but it is a unique balance of commitment and enthusiasm that makes it work. Don't get me wrong, it is hard sometimes to dedicate so much spare time but is worth it so we can bring people back safely.  

Mayday! Mayday!

When we get paged, it’s like an instant hit of adrenaline. We get changed and head to station as quickly and safely as we can, get kitted/briefed and head to sea. This is usually all done in 6-8 minutes. We are the first responders at most shouts and have to complete intensive training to prepare for this - with first aid, navigation and boat handling a few key skills to master. Our shouts can be anything from first aid, missing persons, groundings, medivacs, searches, and sinking boats, to fire and mud rescues.

I always need to do the check before I leave the house; keys, wallet, phone and pager. And being aware of where I park at the supermarket, or in town as we tend to stay in a 2 mile radius of the station. You do have to live your life as normal; it’s just about being a little more prepared and knowing you can respond if needed.

Two complementary roles in life

Each role has its own unique skillset and I find a lot of these cross over. Teamwork is a must in both. In the agency, everyone has a role and there is a clear hierarchy. We all know what we need to contribute to make BBD work seamlessly and to deliver our work on time and to high standards.

It’s the same with the lifeboats. Everyone has their role on the boat; be it helmsman, navigator or radio operator. These all work in tandem on a shout and it's through the training and experience that these all work effectively.

Both sides have the same ultimate goal; saving lives at sea. My job at BBD does this through designing advice and safety campaigns and through fundraising to sustain the operational side. Volunteering is the pointy end, assisting people from the sea or boats. We hope this will happen less and less as the safety work progresses.

My first-hand experience has helped influence the communications that I work on in the studio. From the front end of the RNLI, I often gain insights that I can feed into our team to answer design briefs. I have worked on a number of RNLI safety campaigns. These included commercial fishing safety, yachting safety, diving safety and dog walkers. All of these I have had first-hand experience of as a volunteer, which helps me communicate the goals of a design brief as I have met a lot of these people in difficult situations and can tailor the work in an emotional or targeted way.

In both roles you have to live by a set of values that define the place you work. These uphold the professionalism and the standards of the work we do in the studio and at sea. Both the RNLI and BBD hold these in the highest regard.

Why I do it?

As volunteers, we put a lot of time not just in going to sea to rescue people. As a charity, we need to fundraise to ensure our existence and do this through various events like our station open day. Training is a massive part of being a crew member as most lifeboat crews don’t come from a maritime background so we attend various exercises and complete assessments to make sure we are fully competent on the boat. I have an enormous amount of pride and purpose as a volunteer crew member. I love the challenges it brings and that it puts you out of your comfort zone at times, as well as learning life skills such as first aid, communication and seamanship. The training gives us a lot of confidence much like gaining experience as a designer over several years. When the pager goes off in the office, it always hits home with my colleagues why we work for them, why we are involved and why we fundraise. 

Interested in becoming a volunteer?

If you're interest in being a volunteer then I would highly recommend it. If you’re passionate about something and have the time and commitment, volunteering is an amazing way of giving back to the community. Whether it’s being a marshal at a running event, shaking a bucket for a local charity or even volunteering on a lifeboat.

There are 2 ways of volunteering for the RNLI. First is locally at Poole lifeboat station were options exist for being a fundraiser, on the visits team, a crew member or shore crew. Check it out here:

Or look up the main RNLI website and see the opportunities that exist at a local or regional area:

Stay safe.

Photo Credit: Will Collins 

The original article can be found at