Salcombe Lifeboat Crew
Chris Turns

I joined Salcombe lifeboat crew in 1993 a year after the TV series, having grown up with my father Stan being on the crew since 1981. It was a right of passage. Smee, the coxswain at the time, came to me one day and said “so when are you joining? I replied err now?” and that was about it. I was told that I would not go to sea in the first six months which I was happy about. I still had to turn up and help.

One day, not long after signing up, the pager went off and as usual I drove my father down – they were short of crew. Suddenly, I was at sea, and that was the start of my time on the crew. The Tyne class lifeboat (Baltic Exchange II) had such an awesome engine sound, it could be heard from miles away. 

One of the memories that sticks in my mind was in 1983 before I joined the crew. The old Watson class Baltic Exchange lifeboat was answering a call in Start Bay in a force 11 hurricane, my father was on the crew. I was with my mother in a shop in Kingsbridge and on the radio came news that the boat had capsized. All sorts of thoughts go through your mind, we did not have mobile phones back then so had to wait for word on them. Luckily, no one was hurt. One person had been thrown overboard but he was back on board. I can only imagine how scared they all were. 

I get asked all the time what the worst rescue is I have done and to be honest, I forget the nasty ones. I do remember being called to a fishing boat Tardis of Yealm that had struck rocks down near Hope Cove. In the middle of the night, they issued a Mayday which is a threat to life. We launched and got there as quickly as possible. When we arrived on scene it was like a movie set, the boat was half submerged. Kevin Oakman fired a rocket line over the top of the casualty vessel which impaled itself into the cliff and the rope lay straight down on top of the fishing boat, we tied our X boat (small inflatable that is kept on board) to the line. The men pulled the boat in jumped into the dinghy and as we pulled them back out the boat sank down behind them. 

We got them back to the station and warmed them up, then they were trying to work out how to get home to Plymouth, I offered to take them home and again I can remember thinking did I have enough fuel in my car – being a student back then I was always running on low fuel!

Over the years I have worked in most roles, from navigation to emergency coxswain. I love it when we get on the boat and everyone is doing a different job, we are all working in sync and communicating well to get to where we need to be. All the training and practice exercises pay off in that moment, and all the commitment is worth it when we bring people home safe.

I still get a real buzz out of the fact that before the pager goes off all the crew are going about their daily business, then minutes later people from all sorts of life attend the station and go to help someone they often do not even know. The best feeling is when they say thank you.

My children often watch “Saving Lives at Sea” and I still get emotional watching different stories around the country and am proud to be part of this team. Highlights of the programme when the pager goes off on the telly to see how high Anna (my wife) jumps, even the kids watch her to see the result.

I feel proud to have been volunteering for the RNLI for 31 years now – it has been such a big part of my life for so long. 

Now, it’s lovely to see my kids enjoying being on the water, learning boat handling skills and hearing them say that they would both one day like to join the crew. They are also particularly good at spotting when people have not got their kill cords or lifejackets on. 

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