A Day in the Life of… An RNLI Volunteer

Here at Gecko, we take great pride in hand-crafting marine safety helmets for a wide range of organisations around the world. But once a helmet has left our Bude production facility we don’t always find out what it’s been up to. Introducing our ‘day in the life of’ blog series; here we’ll be talking to members of some of the organisations with whom we work to find out exactly what its like to do the jobs that they do, and what they think of their Gecko Head Gear.

We’re kicking things off with a Q and A with an RNLI volunteer from our local lifeboat station in Bude; Liam Sharpe has been volunteering with Bude RNLI since 2003 and is a helm and LTA (Local Trainer Assessor): –


Q: How did you get into volunteering with the RNLI?

A: I knew one of the helms at the time, I used to do RAPID-UK (flood rescue) with him; he knows that I have a lot of experience operating in a marine environment through surfing, sailing, fishing etc and that I grew up around boats, so he recruited me!


Q: What are the criteria for joining?

A: Commitment and enthusiasm. Anyone with those qualities can become an RNLI volunteer!
There are additional role-specific criteria depending on the job you go for, for example, all the boat crew need to pass a medical to confirm that they are fit, well and have adequate eyesight for performing their role.


Q: Why do you volunteer with the RNLI?

A: As a qualified lifeguard, surf instructor, flood rescuer and personal watercraft user I have the right skill set for RNLI boat crew and decided to use it to give something back to the community.

Q: What happens when an emergency call comes in, how is it filtered to you?

A: When someone dials 999 and reports an emergency at sea, the call is forwarded to the coastguard who will then decide whether to launch a lifeboat. If they decide that the situation requires the launch of Bude lifeboat they send a ‘Launch Request’ pager message through to the ‘Launch Authority’ who can then approve the request if it is safe to do so. There are various on-call personnel at the station who can authorize (or decline) a lifeboat launch request. If the request is approved, then a ‘Launch ILB’ pager message goes out to all active serving boat and shore crew requesting their immediate presence at the lifeboat station.


Q: How does the crew get selected for each shout?

A: To begin with it’s a case of seeing who arrives at the lifeboat station following the ‘Launch ILB’ pager message, but it also depends a great deal on the type of situation we’re being called upon to deal with. For example, in a difficult situation or rough seas a more experienced crew would be sent out, but if the shout is something low risk we might send a less experienced crew so they can gain experience. The crew might require a particular skill set for a shout and if the right person is available when the lifeboat is launched they will be on it. It is the helm and the DLA’s decision as to who assists in the boat.


Q: How many go out on the boat?

A: Again, it depends on the job, the sea conditions and who is available; in short, there are usually 3 or 4 boat crew members on our IB1 D Class. Some RNLI stations have larger boats which of course take more crew. Our D Class can carry up to 5 casualties.


Q: How do you decide who will fulfil each role on the boat?

A: The boat needs a helm on it before it can go to sea – so the helm is the helm! Apart from that, it depends once again on the shout, the sea conditions and the skill set of the crew.

Q: How long does it take to get the lifeboat launched after the pager has gone off?

A: From the pager going off to the lifeboat being launched, it’s usually around 5 minutes; we’re required to be able to do it within 10.
Believe it or not, getting kitted up in our drysuits and helmets only takes a minute.


Q: What is the strangest scenario you’ve experienced with your pager going off?

A: Hahahaha! Let’s leave it at that!


Q: Do you have a rota for being on call?

A: The Deputy Launch Authority’s do but as a helm, I don’t; there are only a few helms at Bude so even though there is no formal rota we do have to communicate to ensure that someone is always available. As boat crew, we don’t have a rota because there are enough active crew in Bude that there is always a good turn out when the pager goes off.

Q: What happens if there’s a shout on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day?

A: It happened on Boxing Day in 2017 and 14 crew members showed up. Business as usual!


Q: Can you remember your first shout?

A: Yes I can. It was a lady on the breakwater with a broken leg. We didn’t actually launch the lifeboat for this one, we picked her up in the tractor and drove her back to the beach where the paramedics were waiting.


Q: Most memorable moment?

A: In 2016 I was selected from the Bude crew to represent the RNLI at an IMRF (International Maritime Rescue Federation) exchange, where lifeboat crews from six different nations came together to share experience and best practice relating to saving lives in European waters. The exchange was comprised of simulated search and rescue exercises as well as training modules from the host organisation, the Dutch KNRM, in areas such as first aid, navigation, vessel management, firefighting, capsize drills leadership and maritime English. It was fascinating and eye-opening to experience the day to day operations of a different lifeboat organisation, and interesting to see that they (and several of the other European lifeboat organisations) also use Gecko helmets. I’ve had a lot of happy, rewarding and sometimes emotional experiences with the RNLI, but this one stands out as the highlight.

Q: What do you think of your Gecko helmet? Favourite features?

A: I use a few helmets for different things; climbing, flood rescue and going to sea. My RNLI Gecko marine safety helmet is by far the most comfortable – with that in mind I’d have to say that my favourite feature is the inflatable liner because that is what makes the helmet so nice to wear, as well as allowing for considerable adjustment so the helmet can fit just about anyone.
I do also really like the short visor, though many of my colleagues prefer the full-length one, that’s just personal preference I suppose.
I think it’s great that Gecko is a local, Bude based company and that they have succeeded in making such a big impact in the global helmet marketplace.


For more information about volunteering with the RNLI and news from the lifeboat station at Bude visit www.rnli.org.

Gecko Head Gear has been supplying the RNLI with headgear for over twenty years. The original open face design was designed around the demanding requirements of lifeboat crew to replace the old motorcycle helmets that were used previously. In addition to working with Gecko to design the original open face helmet, the RNLI was instrumental in the development of a safety standard to govern marine safety helmets, PAS 028, which is now widely recognised as the best accreditation for marine helmets. RNLI boat crew UK wide all use Gecko Head Gear, in an iconic red and white design with silver reflective strips. To create a custom helmet with your own lifeboat branding visit the Gecko website by following this link.