A New Year Message from Paul Boissier

Hear from our Chief Executive, Paul Boissier as we look ahead to 2017 and reflect on some of the fantastic achievements of 2016.
RNLI Chief Executive Paul Boissier at Tower lifeboat station.

Photo: David Devins

RNLI Chief Executive Paul Boissier at Tower lifeboat station.

2016 was a busy year for the RNLI.  Our lifeboats launched about 8,300 times on a shout; our lifeboat crews and lifeguards saved the lives of over 450 people, and they helped or rescued 30,000 more.  And to mark two absolutely outstanding services, the Trustees awarded Bronze Medals for Gallantry to Coxswain David MacAskill of the Lochinver Lifeboat who went to the assistance of a fish carrier that had suffered engine failure in strong winds close to Cape Wrath, and to Coxswain David MacLellan of the Islay Lifeboat, who saved the life of a lone sailor whose yacht was rapidly being set onto a dangerous reef in heavy weather.

The demand for our lifesaving service never lets up. Over the Christmas holiday, between 24 and 26 December, RNLI lifeboats were launched no fewer than 17 times – from Amble, Hartlepool, Lerwick, Redcar, Tower (3 times), Weymouth, Youghal, Gravesend, Walmer, Douglas, Ilfracombe (2 times), Chiswick, Lytham St Annes and Southwold.

Every one of these lifeboat launches, and every lifeguard intervention, was performed by men and women who – like everyone in the RNLI – are prepared to put their own lives on hold to help people that are in trouble on the water.

I just want to say a big thank you to each one of our lifesavers and your families, no matter what part you play.  It’s a big commitment that you take on in joining the RNLI; we ask a lot of you, and you have done brilliantly over the last year.

2016 was a busy year for our lifesavers at home, but we should also recognise the growing achievement of our international team and the work that they are doing to save people from drowning in other countries. Their work is complex and demanding, and it takes them away from home for long periods, but the number of lives that we now save overseas, or help others to save, almost certainly exceeds the total in the UK and Ireland.  That’s an amazing achievement.

Our volunteer fundraisers should also take immense pride in their achievements during 2016.  Despite all the difficulties that they have had to contend with, especially the challenges of moving to opt-in, their tireless efforts have once more raised a huge amount of money which has made an invaluable contribution to our lifesaving service.  The RNLI is very lucky to have such a committed and selfless team of volunteers.  Thank you all.

For many of us, volunteers and staff alike, 2016 felt like a tough year. But it was also an important year because we were able to put in place a lot of the groundwork that will help us meet the demanding lifesaving targets that the Trustees have set us: to halve the number of people who drown accidentally in the UK and Ireland by 2024 and to have made a significant impact on global drowning by 2034.  We achieved a lot in 2016:

  • Commissioning a new and much more powerful software system called Microsoft AX, which will replace SAP and provide the digital backbone of the future RNLI.  AX will take a lot of effort out of the everyday running of the RNLI – from service returns to warehousing, and from the management of branch accounts to the staff payroll.
  • Launching the new website to help make it easier to use, and in future provide a much more personal service to our supporters.
  • Getting ready to bring the supporter database online in Spring. This will replace the ageing and unreliable Charisma system, and it will be a real leap forward, allowing us to give a much more personal service to our supporters in the future.
  • Moving ALB hull and deck fabrication factory from SAR Composites in Lymington to the All Weather Lifeboat Centre in Poole, so that all fabrication, fitting out, repair, refit and decommissioning of ALBs can happen on a single site.
  • Successfully delivering an opt-in policy for supporter communications by 1 January.  We are still the first major charity to take this step, and it is a testament to the energy and the enthusiasm of our volunteers and staff that opt-in numbers have already exceeded our expectations. We had hoped that 255,000 people would sign up – but by New Year over 445,000 people had opted in, and I hope that the number will rise further still in the future.
  • Building a stronger and more comprehensive network of support to the Community Lifesaving teams on the coast. This will give better support to lifeboat stations, branches and lifeguards, and better coordination of our efforts on the coast.
  • And we also started work on the next phase of our Continuous Improvement (Lean) programme.

This year, the focus on saving more lives will continue. The size of the drowning problem is massive – 190 people still drown accidentally around the coast of the UK and Ireland each year; 600 in the UK if you include suicides and inland drowning. And close to 400,000 people drown each year around the world. We believe that we have to do something about a problem of this scale. But we can’t do it all on our own; we will find new ways to work with communities and like-minded partners, sharing our ideas and combining our efforts so that fewer people lose their lives with each passing year.

This will mean finding new ways of working, while building on the time-honoured practices that have always worked, and will continue to work in the future. We will of course continue to invest in our lifeboat fleet and the expansion of our lifeguard programme, because no matter how good we get at prevention we will always need courageous men and women and fast, reliable lifeboats to rescue people around our coastline. We will put more emphasis on our Continuous Improvement programmes to find new ways to save more lives, and to release the funds that we need to make them happen. And we will refine the new computer systems, so that we get them working as well as they possibly can to support us all in keeping our service running.

2017 will undoubtedly have its challenges. I can’t promise that it will be an easy year, but if we get it right it will be satisfying, and we’ll achieve a great deal towards our goal of reducing the number of people who drown. This isn’t a matter of statistics; it’s all about peoples’ lives – families that are broken for ever, parents who lose their children. And it’s because so much of this tragic loss of life is avoidable that our Trustees have set us our tough drowning reduction targets. They may be ambitious targets, but I am convinced that they are achievable, particularly in an organisation with the spirit and the determination of the RNLI.

I believe that we belong to the most effective maritime lifesaving organisation in the world.  I’m proud of the RNLI’s achievements, and the way that we operate, and I am proud to be part of an organisation that is so widely admired, both at home and overseas. I’m also profoundly humbled to work alongside people that I so greatly admire – and I just want to take this opportunity to say thank you.

Every single one of you, whether a volunteer or a member of staff, deserves to be proud of your achievements over the last year and genuinely excited about the prospect of the year to come. You are doing brilliantly, and you really are making a difference to peoples’ lives.

May I wish you a very happy, successful and safe New Year in 2017.