Having joined the RNLI in 2018, Josh Owens now holds two positions at Portsmouth Lifeboat station: both as an Inshore lifeboat crewmember and as the station’s Lifeboat Boathouse Manager. He also happens to be a rising star of TikTok, clocking up over 23,000 followers with whom he shares safety advice and a glimpse behind the scenes of a busy lifeboat station.
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?
Initially I didn’t actually know that much about the RNLI. I’d heard about them but not really any specifics. I ended up going to an event run by Portsmouth Lifeboat Station and started hearing more about what they’ve done and how they did things and what they gave back to the community In Portsmouth. Upon listening to it I was thinking, “you know what this is absolutely amazing why aren’t I doing something like that?” So, just feeling inspired by what they were saying, that’s what led me to join up.
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?
Yeah, I think it does. The Portsmouth lifeboat has a long history, basically back to the early 1900’s. I mean, it swapped location in between but its very much still with us. We’ve just had a new D-Class on station; it’s named after one the helms who was awarded the bronze gallantry medal, so it’s very much still with us there at the moment.
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?
It’s very hard… A lot of people ask, or call you heroes and stuff like that. To me, I don’t personally feel like a hero, but looking around at the crew I do think they’re heroes and I really aspire to be like them and those that came before them. But personally, I see myself like everyone else that’s willing to do their part to help.
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?
It’ll always be your first. So, I remember my first shout was to a capsized Catamaran and the weather was particularly snotty! If you were to see the boat from shore you’d see the boat, then you wouldn’t. Then you’d see it… then you won’t again. So it’s always things like that, because as you go through you get more used to going out and seeing what you see. I mean, every day is different, but you know more what to expect and what’s going to happen at the other end. The first time I was on a shout I went to a sinking sailing yacht and to be up close to see something like that happen, and how quickly it can unfold, it did get me a bit unnerved!
When we’re getting kitted up, we normally get briefed by the helms about what the shout is. You could have two tow jobs, and it would never be the same, but at least you know what you’re going into. But when its your first one, you’ve got no idea have you? You can only go off what you’ve trained for.
Through your TikTok following you reach thousands of people. Do you feel a responsibility to share water safety information with that, or is it more about the kit and technical side of things?
Oh, absolutely! At first it started off with just showing people what we do, what we’re about. I was showing the training side and stuff, and more and more people were engaging back. So I thought, well actually, there’s a greater message that the RNLI wants to put out, and if I’m getting all this attention, it ultimately helps us out. Because, at the end of the day, the less shouts the better! So if we can go out and use it to educate the public, that’s fantastic.
I was working down at Victorious over the weekend on a fundraising stall and I actually met a couple of fans who love the TikTok page. And I asked each one, did you learn anything off the page? And they knew all the safety information which was just brilliant.
Can you sum up your work with the RNLI in one word?
In one word!? I’d say commitment.
I use that very loosely, you know; committing to the crew, committing to the job, committing to put down whatever you’re doing to answer the pager. And, at the end of the day, and most importantly I suppose, committing to that person that you’re going out to help.
Words by Josh Owens | Images by Yehya Al-Hafidh