Heather Crittenden Photo: RNLI/Thomas Henfrey

After three years of intense training, a station wedding and the birth of two children, Heather Crittenden and Littlestone RNLI are celebrating her achievement of becoming the first female helm in the station’s 100-year history, but it’s not all been plain sailing to get there.

Heather, a Cluster Manager for the Red Cross by profession, joined the RNLI in 2011 after experiencing life in the station during a search operation for a crashed light aircraft. Even on that occasion, Heather’s potential was evident: ‘She would be a good asset to this station and asks all the right questions,’ recounted Ops Manager Charlie Davies.

The following Tuesday, Heather went on an acquaintance trip to the station and the rest as they say is history.

Eleven years later and Heather has made herself an indispensable part of the RNLI’s 24/7 search and rescue service. Working as the station’s Lifeboat Training Coordinator, Heather has combined her regular duties with the added responsibilities of managing the progression of newer crews, further developing their skills at the station.

Heather Crittenden stands in front of Littlestone RNLI's Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat the Jean McIvor
Heather Crittenden becomes the first female helm in Littlestone RNLI’s 100 year history Photo: RNLI/Thomas Henfrey

Working alongside her husband Matt Crittenden, Littlestone’s volunteer Lifeboat Operations Manager, Heather has balanced her full-time job and raised two young children whilst being on call 24/7 to save lives at sea. The couple even had their wedding at the station so they could be available for any callouts on their big day.

The path to becoming a helm started for Heather in 2017; however, Covid related disruption and the arrival of her second child meant her training really began with the delivery of Littlestone RNLI’s newest Atlantic 85 – the Jean McIvor in 2020.

Heather’s pass-out was even delayed due to engine failure on the inshore lifeboat, but two days later with the engine fixed, in rough seas, snow, sleet and in the rain and dark she went on to pass out as Littlestone RNLI’s first female Helm on the March 10 2023.

‘I’m not sure I ever thought that I’d one day hold the position I do now.’ said Heather, ‘I am so proud to have achieved what I have. It has taken hard work and a lot of time but at the end of the day there are no short cuts because you are going to be in command of a lifeboat and its crew, so you need to be the top of your game.’

Lifeboat Operations Manager Matt Crittenden said: ‘In the hundred years there has been a lifeboat at Littlestone there has never been a female helm so It is an historic moment and the fact that Heather passed out during the same week as International Women’s Day makes it even better. Heather is a natural leader, an engaging and encouraging team player and we hope this will drive and encourage others to do the same’.

‘I think there is lots of opportunity within the RNLI for woman, mums, wives like me to achieve and progress within the charity. I would urge anyone who is interested to get involved as it may be the start of something fantastic!!’ said Heather.

By Ed

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