Dave Riley saves lives at sea in gale force winds and lightening-filled skies – yet his greatest fear is riding a rollercoaster, he tells Natalie O’Hare.
A short, slim, ginger-haired man rushes through the doors of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute College and strides over to reception. He looks slightly flustered having just arrived back from a trip to Cornwall. Hung on the walls are artistic drawings of the lifeboat crew at sea, capturing the essence of the work they do for charity. A portrait of a smiling Dave with a glint in his eye stands prominently at the entrance giving visitors a glimpse of the larger than life personality of the person they are about to meet.
Dave explains how as an 8-year-old, he and his father used to watch the crewmen: “I got involved with sea work because I used to live near the lifeboat station at Eastbourne and regularly heard the maroons sound…I got very excited and ran up to the window to watch the crewmen get the boats ready.” His Mum used to think it was just a phase he was going through but is now very proud of him and his volunteer work.
As a 16 year-old schoolboy, Dave dreamed about having a maritime career. He began working as a lock-keeper in Eastbourne and is currently a Deputy Coxswain for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) in Poole. Dave has the responsibility and skills to ensure the crewmen he works with are ready to save lives. Although he thinks about how his life would be different if he had continued his studies to A-Level and University, he does not regret the way his career has turned out.
“I thrive on the adrenaline rush I get when my pager goes off. I am about to try and save someone’s life, what better feeling can you get than that?”
Glen Mallen works as a Training Manager and is a Poole Lifeboat crew member with Dave. He said: “Dave acts in a professional and considered manner when operating the lifeboat. He has developed into the role of Coxswain at the station very well.”
Dave’s job entails going out in the worst weather conditions and doing what he can to help those in danger but he does not think much of his courage: “I don’t think I’m brave at all. I’m scared of heights…and I can’t bear rollercoasters.”[pullquote]”I still feel a great rush of excitement and adrenaline to get out and help whoever is in need.”[/pullquote]
His worst experience was in Eastbourne when two sailors were close to death after their yacht dismasted. Dave said: “The weather was atrocious; we experienced heavy rain and lightning with winds up to gale force 11. I was frightened but more concerned for the welfare of the people in the yacht than for my own feelings.” Dave and his crew quickly responded to the yachtsmen in trouble. “We ground the yacht and threw out a line to the men. However the yacht sank and the men fell into the sea, making the situation trickier for us. The sea was rough and it was difficult to see where they were.” Dave said that it was touch and go but eventually the sailors were towed to safety and neither was hurt.
As well as saving lives at sea, Dave also trains new volunteers in everything from the basics of sea survival to navigation and team-work skills and how to fix a boat’s engine whilst on board. He said: “Communication is an important aspect of lifesaving in a team. Students have to be taught how to communicate and then apply this skill whilst at sea.” He is proud to be able to pass on his extensive knowledge whilst training new crews. It is satisfying for Dave to watch new members build up the courage, motivation and determination to brave the harsh waters of the south coast on the RNLI lifeboats.
Anne Millman, a fellow Poole lifeboat crew member and friend said she has learnt a lot from Dave as a trainer. She said: “Dave is great to work with – he is always very calm when put under pressure.” Glen agreed with her: “Dave works in a calm but authoritative manner as a Coxswaine should.”
Watching the simulator Dave uses to train his students on was an extraordinary experience. The whole thing was like watching something from ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ – the wave machine brought realistic waves, and the thunder and lightning created a terrifying atmosphere inside the pool hall. As the lifeboat was launched, the trainees jumped straight in to battle with the violent waves that were crashing into the boat from all angles. When working, Dave wears a yellow waterproof coat, orange life jacket and blue waterproof trousers looking every bit the professional that he is. He said: “The simulator puts pressure on the students, it encourages them to put into practice all the skills they have learnt in training.” His teaching is professional and tailored to each student who is then offered individual feedback on their efforts.
“I don’t think I’m brave at all. I’m scared of heights…and I can’t bear rollercoasters.”
Although volunteering intrudes into Dave’s social life at the pub, each day brings new and exciting challenges. He has his pager switched on 24/7 and can get called out to sea at any time. “Although it is frustrating if I have just sat down to eat my dinner, I still feel a great rush of excitement and adrenaline to get out and help whoever is in need.” Being a Coxswain, he has to ensure everyone is ready and understands what they need to do in order to save those in trouble.
The RNLI always do what they can to save a life, but sometimes is cannot be done. In a fatality they have to deal with it and move on. Dave said: “It is hard but we just have to get on with it and learn from what has happened. You have to put your emotions to the back of your mind and move on.” Although he added that there is always a sense of immense satisfaction after a successful call out.
Of everything Glen has learnt from Dave, he feels resilience is the most important. He said: “Dave has always wanted to be a Coxswain and has demonstrated that if you really want something then it is possible if you continue to work at it.”