Whitby RNLI coxswain steps down after 30 years of loyal service

Mike Russell was working on a fishing boat and running a fishing shop when he joined Whitby RNLI back in 1987.

Mike Russell is retiring as coxswain of Whitby RNLI. Pictures: Ceri Oakes

No stranger to the sea, he was keen to join the volunteer lifesaving crew in his hometown.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

There have been many memorable call-outs in the course of 30 years with the charity, although Mike said the funny ones had stayed with him just as long as the tragedies.

Mike Russell at Whitby Harbour.

He will never forget the time crew member Stephen Boocock had to swim round after Labrador in need of rescuing.

Nor will he forget the 22 hours spent searching the North Sea for two lads in a small fishing vessel – and the relief he felt when they were found at last.

“We talk things through after a difficult shout,” he said. “But we also have a lot of laughs, a lot of mick-taking. It keeps things light, which you need when you see some of the things we see.”

Mike eventually held the posts of emergency coxswain and second coxswain, before taking over as coxswain in 2002 when his predecessor, Keith Stewart, retired.

Mike Russell has been with Whitby RNLI since 1987.

His commitment to the charity’s work has been unwavering, with the understanding of his family proving crucial to his ability to carry out the role.

Carolyn, his wife, has been left sat alone in a restaurant or found herself stranded with a full trolley of shopping on many an occasion after Mike has been paged and driven off in the car to the lifeboat station.

“I couldn't have done this without the love and support of my family”, he said. “I've been on the lifeboat crew since before my two sons were born, they've never known any different.”

And after stepping down as coxswain, Mike is relishing the prospect of more time with them all.

Mike Russell at Whitby Harbour.

“I'm looking forward to be able to give them more of my time and especially my two grandchildren Storm, three, and Henry who is eight months,” he said.

”Carolyn has been very understanding, missing out on shopping trips and weekends away – I think I'm going to have to suffer some shopping trips now to make up for it!”

Those counted as family to Mike are not just those at home though.

“The crew have been my family for the last 30 years too,” he said. “You get to know your crew, their strengths, their personalities.

Mike Russell has been with Whitby RNLI since 1987.

“We socialise together as well as train. This means when we’re out to sea we’ve got each others’ backs.

“There’s got to be trust and respect. As a coxswain you’re only as good as your crew.”

And it is a crew of which he is undoubtedly proud to have been a part.

He said: “I've seen these lads grow up and flourish and I will enjoy watching them take over the reigns.

“The lifeboat has been in Whitby for over 200 years and we are merely custodians of it at a certain time. It will carry on for years long after we've all gone.”

It is clear too that the affection he feels for his crew members and RNLI colleagues is returned.

Station mechanic Richard Dowson said: “Mike has been an inspiration. To most of the crew at Whitby, he has been the only coxswain we have ever known.

“From joining the crew 15 years ago, Mike was always someone I looked up to.”

He said he “over the moon” to be appointed as he knew he would get to work with Mike day-to-day.

“Our working relationship has been the best I have ever had, but in a job like this it needs to be,” he said.

“From me and all the crew I wish Mike a long and happy retirement and hope to see him in the Black Horse as usual every Friday teatime!’

While Mike is retiring from his sea-faring position, his days working for the RNLI in Whitby are far from over.

He will now be getting stuck into a new voluntary role as chairman, with the first order of business being a heartfelt thank you to the fundraisers and supporters who are the backbone of the charity.

He said: “I've grown very close to many of our fundraisers over the years. They raise money, raise awareness, they even bring me Cornish pasties. We wouldn't be here without them.”

Read more: