Photos © Adam Bronkhorst
Roger Cohen, Lifeboat Operations Manager
I’ve been with the RNLI for 35 years. My godfather was on the Newhaven lifeboat and my dad was in the Royal Navy, so it was sort of in my blood. The opportunity came along and I joined the Brighton crew in the early 80s.
We’re all volunteers. They join us as a trainee volunteer crew and then work their way up the ladder, become a crew member, and then possibly a helmsman. At 55, a lot of volunteers can’t get the RNLI out of their system, so they stay with us, becoming part of the management group.
Currently we have 24 volunteers. They come from all sorts of backgrounds – self-employed builders, ambulance paramedics, firemen, directors of companies – very few from maritime backgrounds. I recruit the crew from within a ten-minute window of legally driving here. I’ll try and maintain a minimum cover of five people available to attend at any time of day or night.
Most of our shouts are within three miles of the station, but certainly in the Brighton lifeboat we’ve been as far as Worthing Pier and we’ve been as far as Seaford Head. When a treble nine call comes in, from a member of the public or a worried parent, that goes to the coastguard. They will summate the incident and decide who to put to it to solve the issue. They know there’s a Brighton lifeboat here 24/7, so they could page me and I would decide whether to accept the launch and call the crew. The charity can refuse to launch in certain circumstances, for example, if it is not a life-saving issue.
It’s impossible to say what an average week will look like. Last year we had 82 call outs; currently this year we’re at 21. We had three shouts yesterday, all mechanical breakdowns: a yacht, a powerboat and a jet ski. We have had a run of responding to despondent persons entering the water [attempted suicides]. Of our 82 call outs last year, at least 50% were responding to people who had entered the water or were entering the water through despondency.
The crew will be going out in the boat tonight. They’ll be doing exercises in how to navigate the boat, search patterns, man-overboard drills – everything they’re going to use when they’re out lifeboating for real, so that when it is done for real, it’s second nature.
The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea. They rely entirely on donations from the public and an incredible team of volunteers to keep their 238 lifeboat stations operational around the coast of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The RNLI are recruiting at their Sussex stations for volunteers and welcome enquiries from people wanting to join. rnli.org