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New documentary highlights critical role of RNLI lifeboat volunteers

A new documentary focusing on three young women who volunteer for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has been launched as part of a drive to improve ocean safety.

‘Searchlight’ is the first in a new series of films commissioned by safety charity, Lloyd’s Register Foundation and documents the lives of RNLI volunteers in Oban, West Scotland, which has some of the most changeable and treacherous waters off the British coast.

Produced by award-winning film-maker Dan McDougall, the film is told from the perspective of RNLI volunteers Lawrie, Leonie and Jasmin. Oban RNLI has one of the largest rescue areas to cover in the UK and the waters around the coastline are deceptive, rapidly changing from tranquil to wild. The RNLI crew rely on at least three different weather reports to give an accurate picture of the conditions in these seas which next meet mainland in Canada.

Leonie said:

“The story of the RNLI has always had women in it. The women volunteers today aren’t the pioneers – others led the way. Grace Darling became a national hero in 1838. That wasn’t yesterday, was it?

“Joining the boat… has given me confidence. Being a volunteer isn’t just a privilege, it’s a way to grow and find out who you really are too.”

A theme that runs through the documentary is the RNLI crew as a family and community that supports and encourages one another. Lawrie came to Oban from Stranraer in South West Scotland for the lifeboats (her partner is a full-time Coxswain for the charity), knowing no-one and the volunteers at the station quickly became her close friends.

Leonie was born and raised in Snowdonia but has always been drawn to the sea and again, was welcomed by the RNLI family. Jasmin is originally from Oban but after living in Australia for some time and witnessing the ongoing damage to the Great Barrier Reef, she returned home to train as a marine scientist at the local University of the Highlands and Islands.


The crew’s preparedness and professionalism are evident throughout the film.

Jasmin says:

“When the pager goes off, you just go into the zone and get to the station. Going out on the boat in a storm, there’s an element of managing fear, because you don’t always know what you’re going to and it could be something that’s not necessarily very nice but I think you internalise that. There’s not really time to be scared.”

Film maker Dan McDougall said:

“As the team interviewed the RNLI case studies at the heart of this documentary, Leonie, Lawrie and Jasmin, it became clear that first responder volunteerism wasn’t necessarily the act of sacrifice that we often conclude it to be. Within this powerful and uplifting triptych narrative, the story was less about getting under the skin of what it takes to be a rescuer, and more about exploring and understanding the personal growth of three very different women through volunteerism. Each of them had gained confidence, community and personal growth through their RNLI roles and their interwoven lives had given them a profound sense of purpose and togetherness.

“The film goes to the heart of understanding what it takes to risk your own safety and sanity to save the lives of others and then goes further again to find an almost unbridled joy and pride in doing something that serves others. Something that is emotionally, physically and creatively challenging. All consuming. To be an ordinary person doing extraordinary things.” 

The film is available to view at the following link: Searchlight.

Photos: Finbarr O’Reilly