Lifeboat Lee goes international

Thanks to our international work, we’ve reached thousands of new supporters, helping to save more lives and fundraise. Here Crew Member Lee Howells proves that you don’t have to be new to the RNLI to value lifesaving overseas.
Lee Howells, known as Lifeboat Lee, a crew member from Burry Port

Photo: Nathan Williams

Why did you join the lifeboat crew? 

I love boats and the sea! I’ve been going down to the lifeboat station since I was a kid. At 15 I used to jump on my bike and pedal down to the station when I heard the maroons go off. I joined the crew at 17, as early as I could. 

They call me Lifeboat Lee back home in Burry Port. It’s a good feeling, being proud of what you’re doing for the local community, saving lives. 

What’s your day job? 

I’m a trainer at RNLI College in Poole. Sometimes you get volunteers coming in with no experience of the sea. I make them competent crew – I help them learn the ropes, turn them into lifesavers. 

How have you helped the RNLI’s international work? 

I’ve been out to Tanzania twice. I helped train volunteers in search and rescue techniques, to help them save lives. 

Thousands have died in Tanzania in ferry accidents. Many of the Tanzanian volunteers know people who have drowned. 

I worked with like-minded people in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam – volunteers who want to set up an effective lifesaving service at sea. We helped partners with the initial drive to set up their own service, giving them the skills and training manuals so they can train others. 

After initial RNLI training, local volunteers now run their own rescue service in Tanzania

Photo: Claus Dettelbacher

After initial RNLI training, local volunteers now run their own rescue service

Can you give us an example of the training you did? 

They didn’t have high-tech resources in Tanzania, so for the training we had to be innovative. At the start, in Zanzibar, we taught them search and rescue techniques using a bottle and lid on the beach – the bottle represented the boat and we hid the lid, representing the man overboard. By the end of the fortnight’s training we had people searching in the water successfully. 

What was it like for you in Tanzania? 

It was my first time in Africa – I’m just a lad from Burry Port. It was all different for me: the climate, the tuk-tuks we travelled on, the sharks! Most nights they didn’t have power; the electricity got turned off at 7pm. 

There were barriers, but did we overcome them? Yes, absolutely. The people were so keen. They learned quickly – like sponges. I was privileged to see a rapid increase in their knowledge over 2 weeks.

Volunteers are saving lives of local fishermen and others in Tanzania

Photo: RNLI/Mike Lavis

Volunteers are saving lives of local fishermen and others

How did it help? 

It’s great to think where they were and where they are now, particularly Tanzania Sea Rescue. I’ve stayed in touch with Shukuru Lugawa, who took the lead in setting up Tanzania’s only voluntary lifeboat service from scratch. Now it has established a lifeboat station and they own a boat. To roll that out in a developing nation – that’s amazing. 

Without the RNLI’s help, they wouldn’t have the service they’ve got now. They’re saving lives at sea. 

Shukuru told me about the rescues they’d been doing after we left. How they’ve saved people on broken down ships and stricken dhows (sailing boats). 

What was the best bit? 

I remember when we had some time off and we went down to the beach in Zanzibar for a swim. At 5pm on the dot the whole of the island would turn up on the beach! Hundreds of kids playing football, splashing in the water, all around us. That’s who we’re all helping with all our RNLI international work. We’re helping to rescue their families, teach them to swim, save their lives. 

How does it benefit the RNLI in the UK and Ireland? 

The knowledge, experience and appreciation I took away from the visits is huge. From this I’ll be able to share a greater knowledge and expertise with every crew member that I meet, both at the College and at the coast. And it will help to drive my personal goals to train crew to save lives at sea. 

What would you say to people who aren’t sure about the RNLI’s work with partners internationally? 

Find out a little bit more about what’s happening globally, not just on our doorstep. 320,000 people drown each year worldwide. Many of these are children and young people. It’s not setting up an RNLI lifeboat service overseas – it’s about saving lives in places where people are drowning every day. 

It’s just 2p in each £1 that supports lifesaving internationally. Together we’re saving lives globally for a small amount of money – and making a massive difference.

Want to learn more about our work overseas? Visit our international pages.

You can help save lives at sea with a donation today. From kit to crew training to kids’ education, you’ll be making a real difference to our volunteers – and the people they save.

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