Saving lives at sea: What’s it like to work for the RNLI?

Steve Saint from the RNLI Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Steve Saint from the RNLI Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

For a coastal county like Suffolk, the need to keep people safe at sea has always been important but what’s it like to be one of those saving lives at sea.

Lifeboat crew launching from Aldeburgh Picture: CARON HILL/RNLI

Lifeboat crew launching from Aldeburgh Picture: CARON HILL/RNLI - Credit: Archant

Suffolk is home to three RNLI lifeboat stations; at Aldeburgh, Southwold and Lowestoft.

We spoke to coxswain Steve Saint who leads up the team at Aldeburgh about what it takes to keep the town's coast safe.

Most of those working in Aldeburgh are part-time volunteers, Mr Saint is one of two full-time members of staff who work to the keep the station going at all hours of the day and night.

"There is me and the mechanic James Cable. We are 24/7 until we can get a day off," said Mr Saint.

You may also want to watch:


The most common types of incidents the Coastguard received calls for between 2017 and 2019 Picture:

The most common types of incidents the Coastguard received calls for between 2017 and 2019 Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Day to day life isn't just about going out and saving lives; the station has two lifeboats that need to constantly be maintained.

Most Read

The Freddie Cooper is the larger, all weather boat used by the crew, while a smaller boat known as Susan Scott is used inshore.

Both boats need to be properly maintained so that they can be sent out at any moment.

"As the mechanic James looks after the equipment, which I help with," said Mr Saint.

"After a job it takes a long time to get everything back to how we like it."

The Aldeburgh RNLI out at sea Picture: CARON HILL/RNLI

The Aldeburgh RNLI out at sea Picture: CARON HILL/RNLI - Credit: Archant

Out at sea

Between 2017 and November 2019 the Coastguard received 839 call-outs to the Suffolk coast.

The RNLI work closely with the Coastguard to organise rescues.

"They co-ordinate us," said Mr Saint.

"Nine out of ten calls goes to them and they can set our pagers off.

"If we are searching for something at sea they can set up search plans. We stay in contact with them."

The most common types of call outs received by the Coastguard in Suffolk were well-meaning false alerts, machinery failures and medical cases.

Mr Saint said that was fairly representative of the types of cases the RNLI attends.

"Each year we do quite a lot of medical stuff," said Mr Saint.

It's not always the people in the water that are attended to by the RNLI; they often attend casualties on the beach and even on Aldeburgh High Street.

"We have the kit and the training to look after someone until emergency services can get there," said Mr Saint.

"People know us, so they call us."


The RNLI crew also have an important educational role to play as well.

"The station is open to the public every day so we interact with them as well," said Mr Saint.

"We have lots of visitors from schools."

Groups of adults from organisations like Rotary clubs also visit the station to learn more about the charity's work.


When they aren't out on jobs or speaking to members of the public the team are training.

"We do a lot of competency based training," said Mr Saint.

Volunteers are given a range of tasks to complete relating to both offshore and onshore activities.

Everything from searching for a casualty at sea to first aid training is covered.

Each volunteers spends around four or five hours a week training with the crew.

"The training continues on through the winter," said Mr Saint.

Volunteers were even on call on Christmas Day and at New Year.

"There's total commitment, said Mr Saint.

"We can't do what we do without the volunteers."


The winter months used to be busier for the crew in Aldeburgh with jobs coming from the large fishing fleet once present in the town.

This is no longer the case and the crew often use winter months to give back to their families.

"We do more social stuff in the winter for families," said Mr Saint.

"We demand a lot of time from the volunteers. It's important that families are involved as well.

"We are a big team and a big family."

It's not just those saving lives that make up the team at Aldeburgh. Volunteers also spend their time raising funds to keep the station going and sell items in the station shop.

Mr Saint said the different skill sets on offer helped keep the team going.

"If all of them were the same it would not work. It's because they are different that it works," said Mr Saint.

It's not always easy to keep volunteers though as an older population means there are less and less people in the town who have the ability to work with the RNLI.

Mr Saint said that later in the year the service would be having a recruitment drive to try and address the problem.

So what is the attraction of the unknown? Why do the volunteers and staff give up so much of their time to help others?

"When we are going to rescue someone that can be any time," said Mr Saint.

"That's part of the appeal for me and the volunteers.

"We don't know what we are going to.

"We know something has happened; it might be serious, it might not be."

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus