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Lifeboat training

​High quality training is paramount to the RNLI. The organisation uses a competence-based training framework to ensure all volunteer crew and lifeguards are trained to an appropriate and safe standard that reflects individual job roles. The RNLI continually strives to enhance the skills and professionalism of all crew members and lifeguards and, for this reason, some aspects of training include externally accredited courses.

It is essential that the RNLI offers the best training it can, especially to those who volunteer to risk their lives to save others, and this has been recognised in 2003 and again in 2008 when the RNLI received a National Training Award.

Operational training takes place at RNLI College and also at lifeboat stations, on beaches and in swimming pools to meet exacting fitness standards, and behind the scenes at home with study guides and online resources.

Approximately 4,000 lifeboat crew and lifeguards participate in one or more of nearly 40 different courses currently on offer at RNLI College following recommendation by their training divisional inspector or area/divisional lifeguard manager.

A large proportion of operational training is also delivered on the coast at lifeboat stations by experienced crew members and visiting mobile training units (MTUs) and instructors, and at beaches by experienced lifeguards and instructors.

Regular training involves weekly exercises and is all about teamwork, competence and safe procedures.

Various rescue scenarios are practised, some involving other emergency services such as the UK or Irish Coastguard services. Each year, and at every station and beach, a number of these exercises are observed by RNLI divisional inspectors.

​Trainees and crew alike are required to follow a particular development plan that covers a pre-agreed range of skills necessary to complete particular tasks. These skills and tasks form part of the competence-based training (or CoBT as it is known in the RNLI).

Lifeboat crew are trained so they can 'competently' perform the tasks and when they have been assessed as 'competent' they are defined as 'efficient and pertinently proficient individuals'.

The RNLI provides first-class training and equipment, guidance and support. Training is an ongoing process for the duration of a lifeboat crew member's service. It is not the kind of job where you ever know it all.

Trainee crew

Image of D class capsize training in RNLI College sea survival pool. Photo: RNLI/Nathan WilliamsEvery crew member undergoes a structured training programme, and trainee crew members  undertake a 12-month probationary period, working through a crew development plan.

In the first few months, the trainees learn about:

  • the roles and responsibilities of people at the station and in their operating division

  • how to use and look after their personal protective equipment

  • the layout and equipment on their station’s lifeboat(s)

  • tying a range of knots and how to work with ropes safely.

After 6 months of regular training and getting to know and work with the coxswain/helmsman and crew, the crew can then go on a Trainee Crew course at RNLI College in Poole.

This trains them in responsibilities as a crew member and provides them with the essential personal survival and firefighting techniques, along with an understanding of the equipment used when assisting to save lives at sea. Generic seamanship skills and inshore and/or all-weather lifeboat-specific skills are also taught.

Theoretical and practical sessions help build the crews' confidence and awareness of the lifeboat's equipment and capabilities when at sea. For practical sessions, crew use training lifeboats and casualty vessels, the sea survival pool, fire simulator and flare ground. Some parts of the course are continually assessed so crew can gain external certification.

With only one in ten volunteers joining the RNLI from a professional maritime occupation, training is especially important.  The Lloyd's Register Foundation has previously supported crew training and pledged to fund a further five years of sea survival training, from January 2011–December 2015, bringing their total support to just over £1.5M.

The Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) invests in science, engineering and technology for public benefit, worldwide.


Inshore lifeboat and hovercraft crew

Image of New Brighton hovercraft crew training on mudflats. Photo: RNLI/Nigel MillardFollowing their 12 months’ probationary period, and with ongoing assessments, trainees become fully fledged crew and their training continues at station, with mobile training units and at RNLI College. Boat handling, search and rescue, navigation and radar training, radio communications and casualty care provide the crew with opportunities to develop and maintain their skills. For hovercraft crew, this includes mud and quicksand rescues.

Crew continue to work through their development plans and, if they acquire the appropriate skills and knowledge, can progress to become a helmsman or hovercraft commander, where they concentrate on command skills, advanced manoeuvring and boathandling in different weather conditions, and managing helicopter operations and search and rescue situations. Hovercraft commanders need to have advanced flying skills too!

With only one in ten volunteers joining the RNLI from a professional maritime occupation, training is especially important.  The Lloyd's Register Foundation has previously supported crew training and pledged to fund a further five years of sea survival training, from January 2011–December 2015, bringing their total support to just over £1.5M.

The Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) invests in science, engineering and technology for public benefit, worldwide.



All-weather lifeboat crew

As with inshore lifeboat crew, all-weather lifeboat crew continue their training at station, with mobile training units and at RNLI College. A range of competence-based courses provide crew members with both internally and externally accredited courses and qualifications. These courses support all crew responsibilities on the lifeboat including navigators and coxswains.

The all-weather lifeboat course portfolio includes:

Crew

  • SAR radio operators certificate (module 1)

Navigator 

  • Search and Rescue Navigation

Coxswain

  • Trainee Coxswain

  • Yachtmaster Offshore or Yachtmaster Coastal Examination

  • SAR radio operators certificate (modules 1 and 2)

  • Long Range Certificate

  • Radar and Electronic Navigation Aids

  • Search and Rescue Navigation

  • Search and Rescue Command

  • Search and Rescue Unit Handling

  • Management, Command and Communication

With only one in ten volunteers joining the RNLI from a professional maritime occupation, training is especially important. The Lloyd's Register Foundation has previously supported crew training and pledged to fund a further five years of sea survival training, from January 2011–December 2015, bringing their total support to just over £1.5M.

The Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) invests in science, engineering and technology for public benefit, worldwide.




All-weather lifeboats

Every all-weather lifeboat station has a full-time mechanic who is responsible for maintaining the lifeboat’s engines and all the machinery at an all-weather lifeboat station. The mechanic has a detailed planned maintenance programme to carry out: over a period of time every piece of machinery is checked and maintained. At sea, the mechanic checks that the engines and other machinery are all working properly.

All-weather lifeboats


Every all-weather lifeboat station has a full-time mechanic who is responsible for maintaining the lifeboat’s engines and all the machinery at an all-weather lifeboat station. The mechanic has a detailed planned maintenance programme to carry out: over a period of time every piece of machinery is checked and maintained. At sea, the mechanic checks that the engines and other machinery are all working properly.

 

Inshore lifeboats

At inshore lifeboat stations volunteer crew members maintain the engines and machinery and undertake an Inshore Lifeboat Mechanics course.

Launching a lifeboat

Image of Bridlington Mersey class lifeboat being launched by tractor. Photo: RNLI/Nigel MillardLaunching a lifeboat is also a vital link in saving lives at sea. Operators of launch and recovery equipment often have to push the lifeboat out in raging seas and the dark so their role is important to the safety of the crew and those they are trying to save.

Training courses

Technical training courses offer training for lifeboat mechanics and crew in a range of specialist engine types used in RNLI lifeboats. They are delivered by technical training experts who support approved hands-on courses. Training courses are also offered to mechanics, crew and lifeguards for every aspect of launching and recovering lifeboats and other rescue craft safely.

Mechanics

  • SAR radio operators certificate (modules 1 and 2)

  • Long Range Certificate

  • Introduction to DC Electrics

  • Approved Engine Certificate

  • Engineering Level 2 and 3

  • Mechanical Fault Finding

  • Radar and Electronic Navigation Aids

  • Inshore Lifeboat Mechanics

  • Inshore Rescue Hovercraft Mechanics

Launch and recovery​

  • 4x4 vehicles

  • All-terrain vehicles (ride in, ride on)

  • Launch and Recovery Tractors

  • SAR Radio Operators Certificate

It is vital that training is provided for our volunteer crews and lifeguards with the least possible disruption to their jobs and family commitments. For this reason, training is not only delivered in Poole at RNLI College but it is also provided around the coast by mobile training unit (MTU) trainers.  

The MTU trainers spend all but a few weeks of the year on the road delivering these vital courses and they are a crucial means of providing different types of training locally for crews and lifeguards, delivered during the day and in the evening to suit the crews’ requirements.

Courses

  • Radar and Electronic Navigation Aids

  • Search and Rescue

  • Boathandling and Seamanship

  • Flood Water Rescue Boat Operators

  • Search and Rescue Radio Operators Certificate

  • Long Range Certificate

  • Casualty Care for Lifeboat Crews and Casualty Care for Lifeguards