How Volunteering for the RNLI has Helped Develop my Professional Skills as a Building Surveyor

Dean Thompson
In 2012, I applied to join Bude RNLI as a volunteer crew member for the lifeboat.

Following my successful application, I was accepted to join the crew on an initial probationary period, during which time I had to demonstrate commitment, professionalism, undertake structured training modules and finally pass a medical and fitness test. I was also expected to develop my personal relationships with the existing crew, become part of the team and work professionally under pressure. This was typically assessed by crewing the boat under the command of the Helm, working in challenging sea conditions and ultimately saving lives.

Following the gruelling 12-month probationary period, I was sent to The RNLI College in Poole to complete the Inshore Lifeboat Crew Course to demonstrate my competence as lifeboat crew. The week was enjoyable but challenging and I spent time completing training exercises at sea and within the College. I passed the crew course and returned to station, now a fully-fledged crew member, on call 24-7, a pager attached to my hip and ready to operate at any time day or night.

Also during this time, I was working as a builder whilst also studying for my HNC in Construction at Petroc College. On completion of my HNC, I undertook a degree in Building Surveying at Plymouth University. My commitment and arduous work paid off and in June 2017 I was awarded a first-class honours degree.

The skills that I have developed during my seven years with The RNLI have been very beneficial in my new role.

Soon after I was fortunate enough to secure employment and a career with Faithful+Gould as an Assistant Building Surveyor in the Exeter office. I am thoroughly enjoying my new role as a Building Surveyor and my life as a builder is now a distant memory. I have officially traded my tools for a desk and I have started the journey to become chartered with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

The skills that I have developed during my seven years with The RNLI have been very beneficial in my new role. I find that they are interchangeable and adaptable and the majority I use day to day working as a Building Surveyor, whether it be working in the office, out of the office meeting clients or on site.

One of the essential skills for an RNLI member is commitment and this is also a requirement for all construction professionals. Commitment to the employer and my team, commitment to studying to achieve my APC, commitment to my team/office, commitment to the client, ensuring that their needs are identified and commitment to legislation and ensuring the correct processes are followed.

One of the essential skills for an RNLI member is commitment and this is also a requirement for all construction professionals.

Decision making skills are essential, deciding if the crew and the boat can deal with the task, considering the sea in its current state and how it might change, deciding on the safest and most effective strategy to recover casualties from the water or the shoreline, deciding if the task is possible and if other rescue assets such as the helicopter should be requested. These decisions must be made within seconds, and the wrong decision could put the lifeboat crew, the public, and even the casualty in grave danger, and risk the professional reputation of the RNLI.

Construction professionals must possess the same skills, making decisions to accept instructions, deciding on how to best approach projects, considering on cost savings and advice. The outcomes of a professional’s decision-making process has the potential to put the individual, their employer, the client, governing bodies and the public at risk.

Accountability is also a key attribute, understanding that my actions, if questioned can be justified. My approach to a rescue operation or project is identical. I have the same respect and empathy for the client as I do for the casualty. I will always put the client’s needs before my own, as I will with a casualty. I act ethically and professionally in my day to day activities and when making decisions, at sea or in the meeting room.

After training and qualifying as a Crew Member for Bude Lifeboat and having gained several years of experience, I was selected to commence on a Helmsman training plan.

After training and qualifying as a Crew Member for Bude Lifeboat and having gained several years of experience, I was selected to commence on a Helmsman training plan. I completed further training and assessments with RNLI Divisional Inspectors at Bude station, learning how to command the boat, make decisions and take full responsibility for the crew, the public and the boat. In November 2016, I was sent to RNLI college (again!) to complete a week-long search and rescue (SAR) course as part of the Helm development plan. The course was intense and involved helicopter operations, capsize drills, night time operations and slow speed transfers with different boats and equipment. I returned to station and spent another year honing the skills and developing boat handling and surf training, this time to become competent in launching directly into the surf and managing the crew.

In September, I completed my final assessment with Divisional Inspector, Tom Mansell on board, and spent two hours at sea in challenging conditions with a series of scenarios delivered to test my competence. Following a successful assessment I now qualified as a Helmsman.

As I continue to develop within my roles at Faithful+Gould and the RNLI, I look forward to using my interchangeable skills to further develop my abilities within both roles. I hope that my journey will inspire others to commit to their professional training and ongoing development.

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