Why I swapped life as an RNLI volunteer on the Thames for Baltimore

When he relocated to West Cork from London with his girlfriend, James Kitt tells CHRIS DUNNE that he didn’t want to relinquish his work as a lifeboat crew member
Why I swapped life as an RNLI volunteer on the Thames for Baltimore

ON CALL: James Kitt of the Baltimore RNLI. He says it is really embedded in the local community, a feat which is harder to achieve in London

WHEN James Kitt moved to Baltimore from London with his Cork-born girlfriend, he proved to be a great addition to the coastal town’s lifeboat crew.

Because James, who is from the coastal town of Poole in Dorset, was a volunteer member of the RNLI crew on the Thames in London - and now he has joined the Baltimore ranks of lifesavers.

“I was previously with the RNLI lifeboat crew at Chiswick,” says James, who relocated to Baltimore from London with his Cork-born girlfriend, Emma.

“There are four lifeboat stations on the Thames, the Tower on Waterloo Bridge being the busiest one. They are manned 24 hours a day and I did 12 hour shifts at Chiswick London,.”

The station operates a powerful E class lifeboat between Richmond and Battersea, and now James has swapped his busy life in London for West Cork.

“I couldn’t be happier finding a lifeboat station so I can use my lifeboat training,” he says.

James was a water baby growing up in the aptly-named Poole.

“I was always around water and into sailing,” he says. “I wanted to learn new skills like medical first aid and engine mechanics. I also wanted to volunteer my time.”

James, who works for the charity Concern, met Emma at a sailing event in the USA.

“Emma was a member of the Irish team and I was a member of the British team.”

She lured him to Ireland.

“She didn’t have to do much, to be fair!” says James, laughing. “We moved to Dublin at the end of 2019.”

Soon the couple were on the move again.

“When the first lockdown was lifted, we relocated to Baltimore, where I work remotely for Concern. Emma is from Cork city and she used to spend a lot of her summers in Baltimore,” says James. “So she knew it well.

“We are both outdoorsy and we were hankering after the great outdoors. Baltimore seemed the perfect spot.”

James has been a year now serving on the Baltimore in-shore lifeboat the Rita Daphne Smyth, along with three other crew.

“The off-shore all-weather lifeboat is orange and blue and it carries more people and it travels further out to sea,” says James. “Our inshore lifeboat boat responds faster to incidents near to shore or a few miles out from shore.”

James finds the positives in volunteering.

“I get good satisfaction from being a lifeboat volunteer with the RNLI,” says James.

He is part of the community too.

“The Baltimore lifeboat station is integrated into the village, and it is hugely community based,” says James.

“Everyone knows someone associated with the lifeboat station, whether it be through fund-raising or being part of the fund-raising committee or in relation to the crew.”

James is just one of the crew who save lives at sea.

“I’m one of a number of new joiners to the lifeboat crew in Baltimore and the level of maritime experience and expertise here is incredible,” he says.

“I’m not surprised because I see the love of sailing here.”

James is eager to learn from the sea-faring experts.

I’m learning so much from my colleagues and getting into the West Cork way of life.

“Having the opportunity to work remotely from home is great. Emma and I love it here and we feel very much at home.

“Baltimore lifeboat is so embedded in the community- that is a little harder to achieve at a busy London station.”

Everyone answers the call.

“When there is a call-out here, everyone is aware of it and the whole place is aware of it,” says James. “The whole place gets behind the crew. It’s fantastic.”

The pager alerts the crew to respond to an incident at sea or near to the shore.

“When the pager goes, no lifeboat volunteer hesitates to answer the call,” says James.

“And I know first-hand that these rescues would not be possible without the donations from the RNLI’s generous supporters, helping to fund the essential kit and training equipment needed by the lifeboat crews all year round.

“We thank everyone who supported our annual Christmas Appeal.”

How does the Baltimore station differ from the lifeboat station in London?

“The skills are the same,” says James. “Obviously the weather here in Baltimore plays a big part.

“The flow in the River Thames is fast and it might be harder getting to people. We dealt with a lot of vulnerable people who were in trouble.

“In Baltimore, there is a broader range of incidents to get to.”

James likes being part of a close-knit team.

“I really like being part of the crew,” he says.

Did he come to grips with the West Cork accent yet?

“I’m getting there, understanding my crew mates!” says James.

He and Emma love the coastal town that is now home.

“We take in all the outdoors. We love swimming in Lough Hyne, walking, sailing and paddle-boarding; it is a great part of the world to be in.”

His folks back home are happy too.

“My dad is happy for me that I am carving out a life here in Baltimore with Emma,” says James.

Baltimore RNLI is one of eight lifeboat stations based in Cork, along with Casetownbere, Courtmacsharry, Union Hall, Kinsale, Crosshaven, Ballycotton and Youghal.

To make a donation to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal, visit RNLI.org/Xmas.

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24 hour search and rescue service around the UK and the Republic of Ireland coasts.

The organisation operates more than 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland, and in a normal year, 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 more than 142,700 lives.

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