My journey with the RNLI started in 1985, aged nine, when I saw my very first lifeboat. From that moment I was hooked. The orange paintwork. The buttons and dials. The power of the engines.
Then, hungry to know more, I did what I always do when I stumble across something that intrigues and excites me — I investigated meticulously.
Here was a whole new world! I couldn’t believe that there were so many lifeboats around the coastline. Some really big, powerful ones too. Not only that but the crew wore amazing kit. They were all volunteers too — anybody could be a lifeboat volunteer! I could be a lifeboat volunteer!
They looked so heroic in their ‘yellows’, blasting out to sea in big storms to help people in trouble at sea. I joined Storm Force, the charity’s club for young fans, shortly afterwards so that I could be sure to follow the story, to hear what the RNLI had to say.
Now, some thirty years on, I’m living and breathing the RNLI story more than ever, because of my very own Lifeboat Station Project. The Project is an idea I dreamt up myself, while trying to figure out a way of uniting my passion for lifeboats and my work as a photographer. I’m spending five years travelling the UK and Republic of Ireland in my mobile darkroom to photograph every single one of the 237 lifeboat crews using a Victorian process called Wet Plate Collodion. It is my own tribute to the courage and dedication of lifeboat volunteers.
What’s more, I’ve now witnessed that courage and dedication first hand. I’ve met and photographed hundreds of lifeboat men and women. I’ve also seen several shouts happen before my eyes whist visiting stations.
Most of all, I remember the young boy and girl plucked from the sea at Weston-super-Mare. They’d jumped off the promenade into the water for a football that had gone over the edge. The children weren’t able to cope in the chaotic water that bounced around the concrete walls. They ran into their parents’ arms sobbing but only because the lifeboat had carried them safely back to shore, ready for a long hug and a warm towel.
On another occasion, two teenage sailors were rescued from a capsized dinghy on an icy winter’s morning by the Yarmouth RNLI volunteers. The boys’ lives were saved that day after being swiftly transferred to hospital.
At Weston-super-Mare, the crew launched the lifeboat and recovered the children within 8 minutes of the pagers sounding. At Yarmouth, the 42 tonne Severn Class lifeboat left the harbour within 4 minutes of the alarm being raised. The lifeboat returned safely less than an hour later, job done.
Even after all these years, this is a story that doesn’t grow old for me. It’s truly spine-tingling and something to behold that we have such a dedicated emergency service relying on people like us to make donations and spread the word.
When I joined Storm Force as a boy, I made a conscious decision to ask the RNLI to keep in touch with me. I opted in.
Right now, the RNLI is changing how it operates by asking all its supporters like you and me to opt in — we must let them know that we’d like to keep in touch with the RNLI.
Communication is vital to the future of our lifesaving organisation. From now on, the RNLI can only ask for your support and keep in touch if you have given them permission to do so – even if you’ve given your consent in the past or make a regular donation.
I’ve ticked the box and now it’s your turn. Here’s the link you need to do exactly that — it takes just a moment to make such a huge difference to the future of saving lives at sea: