Covering the coast, Burnham Market, Wells, Holt & surrounding villages

Taking the plunge

27th May 2024

As the RNLI celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, Sarah Hardy meets a husband-and-wife volunteering team at Cromer Lifeboat Station

Neil and Monika Davies are certainly proof that the RNLI is one big happy family! The couple married last year and both volunteer at Cromer’s RNLI station. Neil, who grew up in the area, has volunteered for the past five years (although has been involved with the charity for many years) while Monika, originally from Poland, is a more recent addition who has passed out as shore crew and now has her sights set on training for the all-weather lifeboat.

She says: ‘Having been woken up by the pager going off for many years, and with Neil’s support and encouragement, it felt like a natural progression to start volunteering at the lifeboat station. It has been really exciting to join the crew and be part of the Cromer RNLI family.’

Newlywed Neil and Monika Davies at Cromer Lifeboat Station

Neil, who works in a bakery, is qualified to work as shore crew on both lifeboats based at Cromer – a D class inshore lifeboat and the Tamar all-weather lifeboat. He is also a tractor driver and winch operator. He explains the dedication required to be a member of the lifeboat crew. For a start the charity offers a search and rescue service to those in need, all day every day, so volunteers must always be available. ‘Yes,’ says Neil. ‘There is a rota that we all use and there’s a pager system that summons us. We have to live within 10 minutes of the station and we aim to launch within 10 to 15 minutes.’

He says there is no particular rhythm as to how often either of the lifeboats are called out or any specific reasons. ‘You don’t know what is happening until you arrive at the station,’ he says ‘And you do feel a bit nervous – you need to. You have to respect the sea.’

Lifeboats are launched once the station is contacted by the coastguard and go out to anything – whether it’s a paddle boarder or a commercial fishing vessel in distress. ‘The crew is not judgemental; the priority is to help those in need at sea,’ says Neil.

The all-weather lifeboat has a range of 100 miles and needs a crew of seven on board, with two on land to launch it and, as the name suggests, will launch whatever the weather is like. ‘We can be out for more than 13 hours,’ says Neil. The station has around 40 volunteers plus a few more who help with the museum, shop and fundraising. But, as Clare Stagg, the station press officer, says, there is always room for more. 

Neil and Monika on a training day at Cromer Lifeboat Station

‘You have to be over 18 years old and pass a medical to become a crew member, although there are other roles for over 16s – with parental consent,’ she says, with Neil recommending that anyone interested simply come and check them out. ‘There are lots of different roles – you don’t have to go out to sea. And it is a great community, we really are like one big family. We all talk to each other and help one another – it becomes a big part of your life.’

For both shore and onboard crew, comprehensive and ongoing training is given, with crew sessions held on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings – you can see the all-weather lifeboat launched on Sundays at 9am as part of training programmes.

Fact file

Cromer Lifeboat Station was founded in 1804 and has seen 1435 launches, with 1295 lives saved. The station has a public viewing gallery which opens 9am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm on Saturdays and 9am to 1pm on Sundays. It is holding an open day on 4 August, when both boats will be launched, Sheringham lifeboat will visit, and there will be tours, talks and more, including The Sheringham Shantymen. The aim is to raise awareness of what the RNLI do and some much needed cash.

The RNLI is independent of the coastguard and government, and relies upon donations and legacies to maintain its service. It cost £188m in 2022 to run their lifesaving service. 

All photographs © RNLI


Click here to join North Norfolk Living on Instagram