From 26 April to 2 May the RNLI is running its Mayday event, to raise money for and awareness about its crucial lifesaving service. Hazel Davis caught up with volunteer Cornish crew member Susan Antcliff and felt a little bit useless afterwards.
I’m 35 and I work in catering. During the day I’m the assistant catering manager of the Tate Cafe and in the evenings I work at The Sloop Inn, both in the heart of St Ives.
When did you get involved with the RNLI and why?
I joined as a trainee crew member back in December 2013. I felt that it would be an amazing way to give back to our community. I love the ocean and love very much where I live. I also wanted to do something meaningful. I’m unable to think of many better ways to do all of these things.
What role do you have at the RNLI?
I am (after passing out on the competence-based training) a fully fledged crew member and have started training to become a navigator for our new Shannon-class lifeboat.
Can you describe a typical day for you? Is there such a thing?
I’m not so sure that there is such a thing as a ‘typical day’ as anything can happen, and at any time. Some days the pager just doesn’t go off, then again it can go off twice in one day.
As soon as the pager goes off then you leave whatever you’re doing if you can (which could be your bed, your work or your dinner). Everyone heads to the station where we are briefed and we ‘suit up’ (drysuit or wet-weather gear, depending on the boat).
I crew both our boats; the all-weather Shannon-class lifeboat Nora Stachura and our D-class, the Colin Bramley Parker. A crew is then chosen. It is generally a mix of ‘young’ crew with some more experienced (although it does very much depend on the type of rescue) members.
You can be out at sea for from 30 minutes to more than three hours; it really depends on the mission. But every time, we always bring the boat home for recovery and a wash down, where we check to make sure that everything is OK.
We also go any time, day or night, 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year…
There are about 25 boat and shore crew in total. I was the first woman to join the St Ives Crew, though there is another now, so it’s 23 men and me and Daisy! They are all fantastic and have been very supportive. It’s very much like a family.
Have you ever directly saved someone’s life?
We had one rescue that involved me and my fellow crew members Nick and Pete. Three kayakers got into difficulty around the Hayle Bay area. All of them were no longer on their kayaks and were in the water; the conditions were not great and were starting to get worse with the tide turning.
We pulled the kayakers from the water and checked to see if they required first aid assistance; with the RNLI I am also casualty-care trained. Apart from being cold and tired, they were all fine.
“Crews around the country train week in, week out so that they are ready to launch and assist vessels, swimmers, surfers and divers – we will launch to anyone who needs us at any time.”
We took them back to the beach and then went back for the kayaks. With the tide turning and conditions starting to worsen, we fought our way back out, battling the surf and the waves, making our way back to the boathouse for recovery.
What’s been the scariest moment so far?
To be honest, I’m not sure. The RNLI supplies us with the best equipment and training so we feel pretty safe! And I – literally – trust my crew with my life. I think that we go out sometimes when other vessels are coming in and sheltering. But adrenaline kicks in, as does our training. You just do what you have to.
And the highlights?
Everything! I love being a volunteer with the RNLI and I love being a crew member on the St Ives station. But if I have to pick… I had the huge honour of being a part of the crew that brought home our new Shannon-class lifeboat back in November 2015. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I got to be a major part of it.
What would you say to anyone who’s thinking of volunteering?
Do it! At least go and have a chat with someone at your local station and find out if it’s something you want to be a part of/can commit to.
To be honest, you don’t have to crew the boat if that’s something you’re not sure of. You could be a member of the shore crew that helps launch and recover the boats. Or you could help by being on the fundraising team.
The RNLI can only do this because of generous support from members of the public. They don’t receive Government funding and rely on volunteers who do what they do not for money (as we don’t get paid) but for the love of being a part of something that makes a difference.
Crews around the country train week in, week out so that they are ready to launch and assist vessels, swimmers, surfers and divers – we will launch to anyone who needs us at any time. I’m really proud to play my part in rescuing ‘those in peril on the sea.’
Mayday, the RNLI’s national fundraising event, is taking place around the UK and Ireland from 26 April to 2 May. Funds raised will help the RNLI’s volunteers continue to save lives at sea. Visit RNLI.org/Mayday to donate and see the other ways you can support the campaign.3969 Views
Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".