Volunteers and sea-goers praise ‘vital’ RNLI as charity marks 200th anniversary

Volunteers, fundraisers and those rescued by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) have spoken of its “vital” role in saving thousands of lives on our shores as the charity celebrates its 200th anniversary.

A service of thanksgiving is being held at Westminster Abbey on Monday, attended by representatives of the charity from across the UK and Ireland, to mark the milestone.

Lifeboatman Jonathan Marr works as a seafarer for a living so knows personally the importance of the charity’s work saving lives.

The 45-year-old has been volunteering for the Whitby lifeboat in North Yorkshire for more than 25 years, having been inspired by his grandfather who also served as a lifeboatman and whose silver service medal he inherited.

He told the PA news agency: “I’ve got a family history of seafarers and people that work on the sea and I’m an avid water user myself, so it’s good to know the RNLI is there for people that do use the water.

“They were founded to save lives at sea and hopefully they will continue to do that for another 200 years.”

Mr Marr said he still feels the adrenaline when he receives a call-out but his training has prepared him for all types of rescues.

Whitby RNLI volunteer Jonathan Marr (RNLI/Ceri Oakes/PA)
Whitby RNLI volunteer Jonathan Marr (RNLI/Ceri Oakes/PA)

He said: “When you first start you get the adrenaline of ‘What’s it going to be?’.

“Now, you still get that excitement but because of the training over the years, we remain calm, we have to actually think ‘Well what’s going to happen? What’s the weather conditions, what are we looking for, where can we start searching?’

“So as the years have gone by you become a bit wiser with the training that I’ve received.”

In December 2023, Mr Marr was involved in the rescue of Emma Cassie, 52, and Tom Brown, 19, of Whitby Coastal Rowing Club, whose boat overturned in strong currents and heavy winds.

He said the pair had been well-prepared having carried out safety drills and were kitted out with lifejackets and had managed to climb on to the upturned hull to get out of the cold water.

Mr Marr said the lifeboat crew managed to get the pair back to shore quickly and they had not suffered any ill effects from the cold.

He said: “It was a positive outcome. It’s very rewarding to see the smile on the face when we’ve got there.

“It’s quite a bizarre feeling to think we’ve actually been able to help somebody, it’s very rewarding, I think that’s why a lot of people do it and give up a lot of spare time.”

Ms Cassie, a registered mental health nurse and a mother, said: “We’ve been trained in capsize drills so we know what to do etc.

Emma Cassie was inspired by her own rescue to volunteer for the RNLI (Emma Cassie/PA)
Emma Cassie was inspired by her own rescue to volunteer for the RNLI (Emma Cassie/PA)

“Usually what you do is when you capsize you turn the boat back over and get back in, but because of the wind and the currents underneath it wasn’t possible and actually Tom was in cold water and he experiences cold water shock quite quickly, so we knew at that point that that wasn’t going to be an option.

“Straightaway I asked the other boats to phone the Coastguard, we inflated our life jackets and crawled up on to the hull of the boat to get out of the water.

“We were there and obviously it was pushing us out further.

“We were there for probably 20 minutes before they finally arrived. It feels a very long time and you feel very small and vulnerable in that vast ocean.”

Ms Cassie said she had been so inspired by the RNLI crew, who she said was not judgemental when they rescued her, that she has now volunteered as a community water safety adviser.

She said: “We were quite experienced, we did all the right things, we’ve got the right training and stuff, but even then you can’t control the whole situation in terms of risk.

“Without the RNLI being there, it could have been a very, very different story for me and Tom.

“I’ve got a 14-year-old daughter and I thought ‘Oh my god, she couldn’t be left without a mum’, and I think it just kind of hit home.”

She added that Mr Brown had been inspired to carry out a fundraising row for the RNLI which collected more than £1,000 in sponsorship.

She said: “It’s been inspiring, really, and I think from that, a lot of our own community as well kind of realised the impact and the relevance of the RNLI, especially in our town.”

To donate to Mr Brown’s fundraising effort, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/page/tom-brown-1703332996825.