A Race Against Time

Editorial article for Lifeboat magazine and RNLI web mag


June 2018

Web / Print

Tell the story of a dramatic lifeboat rescue to promote the charity’s lifesaving work for supporters who read both the charity’s print and web magazines.

A new edition of the RNLI’s  ‘Lifeboat’ magazine is sent to supporters four times a year. The web magazine is hosted on the RNLI site and updated regularly. Stories used in Lifeboat are regularly re-used online.  For the Summer 2018 edition of Lifeboat I was asked first to research suitable stories from the previous year, then worked with my editor to choose a suitable candidate. the Silloth story seemed especially well suited.

The work
Having picked the Silloth story, I worked with the RNLI’s process and first contacted the Area Lifesaving Manager, who put me in touch with the relevant member of staff at the Lifeboat Station. After a short chat, they helped me set up interviews with four crew members, each of which took around 10-15 minutes, and a chat with the rescuee. I then wrote the story, using the quotes to build the narrative, and worked with my contact at the lifeboat station to source suitable images and attributions.

See for yourself
Browse below or see the RNLI website for a now-abbreviated version of the story.



18 June 2018

A race against time: ‘We had just minutes to get there’

Stranded in rising water while trying to fetch her dog, Caroline could only call 999 and hope that help would make it in time.

‘What could it be?’ That’s always the first thought Silloth lifeboat Crew Member Andrew Stanley has when the pager goes off.

‘On the way to the station I could see we were in a flood tide,’ he says. ‘By the time we climbed aboard the lifeboat, we knew we were going to somebody who couldn’t swim, stranded at sea, on the roof of a car. Urgency was high.’

Three other crew members joined Andrew on the B class lifeboat Elaine and Don Wilkinson, including Senior Helm Steve Henderson.

‘We knew the casualty was in immediate danger,’ says Steve. ‘We were told the vehicle was submerged. We had just minutes to get there, and get her to safety.’

Despite ideal weather conditions, getting to Caroline proved anything but straightforward.

‘In that area there are very big boulders,’ says Steve. ‘We had to go really slowly to avoid damaging the boat.’

The other concern lay in finding Caroline before it was too late.

Walking on water

‘We had a large search area, between two villages on the coast,’ says Steve. ‘But it wasn’t a large target – not like a vessel. We were really pleased when we spotted her, and that she was actually on the vehicle.’

‘It was like she was walking on water. ’
Andy Rowe
Crew Member

‘It was like she was walking on water,’ adds Andy Rowe, who was also onboard that day. ‘We approached cautiously – we couldn’t tell which way the vehicle was facing and couldn’t risk hitting it. So we stopped a short distance away.’

Crew Member Stewart Henderson was in for a surprise: ‘Twenty yards out, I recognised Caroline. She’s the mother of someone I went to school with. I’ve known her all my life.

‘She was clinging to the car, clearly distressed. Once she saw us you could tell she was delighted – but that’s often when people let their guard down. I reassured her: “Everything will be alright. Don’t panic. Stay there.”’

‘You’ve nicked my parking spot!’

‘We train regularly in and out of the water,’ says Andrew. ‘It was so calm that day that I wasn’t concerned for my own safety. I jumped in, swam to the car, grabbed hold, and put my feet through the open window onto the windowsill.’

‘I joked: “You’ve nicked my parking spot!” and then asked if she was okay. She asked me about her dog.

‘Then I said: “Climb on my back. We’re going to the boat.” She was a bit concerned but she grabbed hold. She was in the water less than 60 seconds.’

‘Andy Rowe and I pulled Caroline and Andrew aboard,’ says Stewart. ‘She was soaked and hypothermic. We focused on getting her warm – I gave her my gloves, and wrapped her in an ambulance pouch for the trip back to the boathouse.

‘When we got there, a female crew member took Caroline to the changing rooms and offered her dry clothes while we waited for the ambulance.’

Immensely proud

‘Caroline was very lucky,’ says Andrew. ‘It must have been terrifying. If she’d tried to get to shore, she’d have lasted maybe 7 minutes. That’s the reality.

‘I’m immensely proud of myself and the crew. Preventing somebody’s death – what better thing can you do?’

‘I’m eternally grateful’

‘My dog was off the lead and ran on to the beach. I followed in my 4×4. But the tide was coming in fast and I couldn’t get to him.

‘By the time I got back into the car the beach was flooded. That’s when I called 999. Soon, the door wouldn’t open. I knew I was in trouble.

‘I was just about to swim when the lifeboat arrived. Thankfully the dog was okay. But I’d dropped my fleece, which had my phone in it, in the water. A week later, someone found it and we recovered 2,600 photos – mostly of my grandkids. So I was triply lucky: my dog, my photos, and my life!

‘The rescue really makes you realise what a great job RNLI volunteers do. I’m eternally grateful. The relief at being safe will be etched on my mind forever.’

Visiting the coast with your waggy-tailed friend this summer? Read our dog walking tips to make sure you both stay safe.

By Mark Scott, Content Editor

Pun-lover Mark has been writing about all sorts of things for the past 13 years. His favourite subject has always been people, and he loves getting out to lifeboat stations and meeting our crews. In 2016 he skated the Berlin Inline Marathon. He says it was ‘wheelie, wheelie great’.