We all know there are lifeboat stations around our island nation, right?
We’ve become so used to it, that it’s become normal and expected.
The notion of lifeboat stations should indeed be normal to us — after all, the RNLI has been with us for nearly 200 years — yet it is also far from normal.
Thousands of volunteers around the entire coastline of the UK and Republic of Ireland are willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice to rush to the aid of those in peril on the sea.
That in itself is extraordinary, let alone the fundraising, infrastructure and organisation that goes into making it all happen.
As the first year of the Project comes to a close, it has been a true honour to meet and photograph the first few hundred of this very special family, to be whole-heartedly welcomed at each and every station and to gain even greater insight into the service they selflessly provide.
As my thoughts start to turn to the second year of the Project, one thing has become abundantly clear — the RNLI Family is a phenomenon of humanity, of coastal heroes.
THE 30 YEAR WAIT
Ever since I was a boy and a young fan of the RNLI, I’ve loved the idea of being a crew member — wearing the kit, the buzz of station life and, of course, the boats! I dreamt — and still do dream — of standing tall as a proud volunteer, ready to be that person who’d drop everything to crew a lifeboat and help someone in trouble at sea.
At the very least, I’d like to have seen a real-life shout but it never happened.
You know, with all the excitement and hubbub around the Project, I’d almost forgotten that a shout might coincide with my travels some time on the five year journey.
It had even begun to slip my mind that the crew members I was meeting every day on the road might actually be required to spring into action.
However, on a balmy evening in Minehead, Neena was parked outside the lifeboat station. I was preparing the glass plates for the next day’s photography with just a few more to go before enjoying a welcome pint or two with Duncan next door at the The Old Ship Aground.
Then came the roar of car engines, frantically parking all around us followed by the scurry of feet.
A shout! Really? Surely!
I looked at my watch and noted the time — within 4 minutes the crew were kitted, the lifeboat was launched and the volunteers were off at over 30 knots to answer the distress call. There’s no other word for it but awesome.
I managed to record it all too, broadcasting live using Periscope (hence the format, for which I apologise in advance):
Again, such an honour to witness this slickest of operations and then the cherry on the cake — photographing them all the next day…
Remember, this one shout is not unusual. On average, there are 23 shouts per day in and around our waters.
In this first year of the Project, I’ve photographed 34 RNLI crews and I’m looking forward to meeting the other 203!
LIMITED EDITION PRINTS
Limited edition prints from each of the plates on this page are available to buy here:
I’d like to thank all the staff and crew at each and every one of the 34 stations I’ve visited this year, not least the RNLI themselves.
Without you all, I could not have got the Project off the ground. I’m deeply grateful to you all.