Emily Hague is a Marine Biologist and crewmember of the RNLI Anstruther lifeboat, meaning she spends a great deal of time at sea. And with a partner on the St Andrew’s Coastguard Rescue team, helping people at sea seems to be a family business.
With passion and courage, ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Our collaboration with the RNLI celebrates the fortitude of those volunteer crews who brave the ocean’s unfathomable power to keep their communities safe. As part of the project, we sat down with four volunteers from around the country to hear their stories.
What inspired you to join your local RNLI lifeboat crew? Was there a specific incident or moment that made you want to volunteer?
I’ve always looked at the RNLI volunteers as superheroes, going out to sea in all weathers in the orange boats and yellow outfits. It wasn’t until I watched Saving Lives at Sea that I realised how many women there were on the crew, which really inspired me join. Alongside this my partner is in the local Coastguard Rescue Team. I watched him go out on rescues and heard his stories of helping people, giving up his time to give something back to the community. I really felt like I want to do that, I want to give something back. But, I didn’t want to be based on land like the Coastguard, I wanted to be at sea, and to be one of those people in the yellow outfits on the orange boat! I never thought I’d get in, but I went down to my local station and was welcomed with open arms by the fantastic team there. The women on the crew were excited to have another woman on board which was great! It’s been a fantastic process ever since, and I’m still so grateful to be part of the RNLI Anstruther lifeboat crew.
The RNLI has a long and proud history of saving lives at sea. How much is that heritage taught as part of the culture, and does it inspire you to do what you do?
Anstruther has a really long history of saving lives at sea. Our boat is turning 30 this year, which means we’re spending extra time celebrating the history of the station. This has really brought home to me just how many lives this station has saved, and in fact, how many people and vessels the lifeboat we still use today has rescued. We still get a lot of the old crew coming down to the station for a catch up, or when we get shouts to see what it is.
Knowing so many of the old crew and old stories means you really feel like a part of history when the pager goes off. You know you’re one of the hundreds of previous Anstruther lifeboat volunteers who have done the same - felt that adrenaline go through them as they head out of the harbour. Sometimes you have no idea what you’re going out to, or what you’re getting yourself into, or how long you’re going to be out for. But I guess the same feelings I have now are the same feelings the crew had 30, 50, 100 years ago when they were going out to sea as well – although thankfully the technology and safety equipment has come on a bit since then!
To many you’re considered Heroes. There’s even a bit of a superhero comparison with how the pager goes off and you have to run out and get changed into gear in a flash. But how do you personally view the volunteering work you do?
I actually see every single one of my fellow crew members as superheroes. I don’t see myself as that in the slightest… I’m still the clumsy, daft Emily that my family and friends know! But I guess when you get into that mindset when you’re out on a shout and you know you could potentially be saving someone’s life, it completely changes your focus. It’s just, eyes on the task at hand and doing the best that you can. We have two boats at the Anstruther lifeboat station and when I see the other one go out alongside us, I look at them and I think “my god these people are amazing!” But really they’re the same crew as me, so really its quite stupid that we don’t see ourselves in that way. The awe and excitement of seeing a lifeboat crew launch doesn’t wear off, even though you're one yourself!
The sea conditions you’re going out in are not for the faint hearted, even with the extensive training and equipment provided. Do you remember a time when you were particularly scared or daunted during a rescue?
I’ve felt daunted when we’ve been on searches looking for people, and the sea just feels so vast and so huge. The weather has been pretty bad in some cases and you’re looking for a person that’s out on their own in the middle of that sea. The horizon ahead of you is moving up and down with the waves and the sea just feels so vast… you can’t imagine that there’s a person out there in the middle of all that. I think that’s when you feel quite frightened. Not for yourself but for whoever it is that’s in that situation. I do find that quite daunting because you feel like you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, and I can’t tell you the relief when you find that person.
In terms of our own safety, the kit we wear as crew is second to none and is designed to save your life if it needs to, as are the boats. The daunting part is going out in bigger seas - the boat that we’re on has these bells that start to ring when you’re in bigger seas as the boat tilts more in a certain direction one way or another. When you hear those you know you’re in rough weather.
Between your day job as a marine biologist and volunteer work with the RNLI, you are out at sea a lot. Do you ever find yourself wildlife spotting when on a shout, or is it like flicking a switch and you’re just focussed on the task at hand?
When we’re out on training exercise I certainly get a little bit distracted when we see dolphins going past. We sometimes simulate searches, and we have to look out to sea and pretend that we’re looking for a person and if I spot a dolphin’s fin then it’s hard not to shout that you’ve seen something! But then, I’ve been out on long shouts where I know that there’s areas with humpback whales or minke whales sighted in that area recently. You have to put your game face on and forget about all those marine mammals that I’d usually be looking for and just concentrate on the task at hand. It is completely like flicking a switch, the dolphins have to wait!
Can you sum up your work with the RNLI in one word?
Words by Emily Hague | Images by Mike Guest
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