Supermum: Chocolatier, three sons, and lifeboat helm
“Being a mum of three, a fulltime chocolatier and a volunteer RNLI lifeboat helm is a fine balancing act but an amazing life”
Karen Cartwright, 43, is a mum of three and a fulltime chocolatier – but whenever her pager beeps, she rushes to her other role: the Helm of Mablethorpe RNLI’s D-Class Lifeboat.
“It’s a fine balancing act - but it’s an amazing life!” says Karen, who joined the volunteer crew in 2006 after what was meant to be a twenty minute trip turned into a real three-and-a-half-hour rescue.
She explains, “I’d been working on the education side of the RNLI for a while but had never been on a boat. So, the Lifeboat Manager suggested I go for a ride but after a few minutes we were called to find two skinny dippers who hadn’t reappeared on the beach. It was April and bitterly cold so there was fear that they could be in difficulty. In the end, I think they must have seen all the people looking for them, got embarrassed and got out further up the beach because they phoned to say they were safe and we were stood down. But from that day I was hooked. And I’ve been crew now for 11 years.”
Karen, whose partner is the Deputy Launching Authority and helps launch the boats, says one of her strangest shouts involved an unexploded WW2 bomb.
“The RNLI has since changed their policy, but back then we took the bomb disposal teams out to the bomb – and we carried it back to shore in the boat! It was my middle son – Ben’s – first day at school and I phoned up to let them know I couldn’t pick him up in time so was sending a family friend. Apparently, the teacher told him in front of his classmates that someone else would be picking him up because his mum was saving people from a bomb! It was a great icebreaker as everyone wanted to talk to him after that.”
Her youngest son, Alfie (aged 5), is a budding crew member and is used to jumping in the car and waiting patiently at the station for his nanny to come and get him.
“The most fulfilling shouts are when you get to hand children safely back to their parents. There were two young girls who’d drifted out to see in a dinghy. We found them, managed to calm them down, and brought them safely back to their dad. It’s such an amazing feeling.
“When rescues sadly end in tragedy, you can at least give that family closure. That’s really important.”
For Karen, Mother's Day will be spent training on the lifeboat with lunch out.
“I don't think we have had a Mother's Day shout so far. We never know when we will be needed - but, as always, we’ll be ready to go”.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.