Winner of the first IMRF’s #WomeninSAR Award 2019, Isobel Tugwell is a member of the Shoreham Lifeboat Crew, with the UK’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

The RNLI was established in 1824. RNLI volunteer lifeboat crews provide a 24-hour rescue service in the UK and Ireland, seasonal lifeguards look after people on busy beaches and the organisation’s flood rescue team helps those affected by flooding.

RNLI crews and lifeguards save people from drowning but educating people about the risks around water and sharing safety knowledge plays a big part in their work too.

The RNLI’s international teams work with the IMRF and its members to help reduce drowning in communities at risk all around the world.

Isobel Tugwell has been a member of the RNLI Shoreham crew on the lifeboat station’s D-class rigid inflatable lifeboat and the Tamar-class all-weather lifeboat for three years. 

She joined three years ago, when she was just 17 years old and still at school doing her final exams.

What Made You Join the RNLI as a Volunteer?

I am a third-generation crew member at RNLI Shoreham – my grandad was on the crew for 41 years and my dad who is second coxswain and second mechanic has been on the crew for 37 years. I wanted to follow in their footsteps to help save lives at sea and continue the tradition in my family.

What Does a ‘Typical’ Day Look Like for You?

My main job is as a Police Community Support Officer working in a neighbourhood policing team dealing with minor offences and crime prevention, for Sussex Police.  I work shifts - so it can be a bit of a struggle to fit it all in and it’s a challenge as there is a lot to learn for both jobs.

When the lifeboat pager goes off you never know what you are going to be called to. 

We might go out on the D-class lifeboat or the Tamar class lifeboat, depending on conditions and circumstances.

The D-class carries three to four crew members and is used for inshore shouts along the shoreline and the river, but it can only go out in particular weather conditions and for a certain distance.

The Tamar class lifeboat carries seven crew and can do a speed of 25 knots. It can travel 250 nautical miles and is used for searches and all types of rescues.

Is There Any Advice that You Wish Somebody Had Told You When You Were Starting Out?

No, because I have almost grown up in the lifeboat station, so I was totally aware of what I was joining and what was involved. 

But for someone not so familiar with the role, I would say that anyone considering volunteering needs to be calm, patient and willingly to give a lot of your time to help other people.

It obviously helps if you can cope with being out on a boat in all sorts of sea conditions for a long periods of time too!

As a Woman, Were There Any Work-Life Hurdles Getting into RNLI?

Not specifically, I would say to anyone interested in becoming lifeboat crew then go to your local lifeboat station and have a chat with the crew, watch some training exercise and go for it.

There are three women crew members at RNLI Shoreham currently and one of those has just qualified as the station’s first ever female helm on the D-class inshore lifeboat.  

I hope we will see more women joining as crew in the future – it’s a real family and a very rewarding role. 

You Won the IMRF 2019 #WomenInSAR Award – What Was That Like?

It was amazing and a total surprise! I still can’t believe I won it as the standard of the competition was really high.

I was so pleased and thankful.

What Would You Like to Achieve in the Future?

I would like to be a fully qualified crew member on both lifeboats and I want to encourage other women to become involved in search and rescue too.