Private Passions: An Officer and a Gentleman

James Franklin is head of merchant sales for Corney & Barrow and is responsible for developing the fine wine merchant’s portfolio across the on-trade, contract catering, hospitality, travel and private customers. His work spans everything from cruise ships to three Michelin star restaurants. After hours he moonlights as an officer in Her Majesty’s Coastguard in West Sussex.

James Franklin of Corney & Barrow moonlights as an officer in Her Majesty’s Coastguard

Why did you decide to join Her Majesty’s Coastguard?

I’m a fanatical windsurfer and spend a lot of time on the water so was aware of the work of the Coastguard and volunteering was something I’d wanted to do for a long time. When I moved to the south coast four years ago, I finally lived close enough to our local station to be able to apply. I wanted to put something back into our local community and push myself in new areas. I have two young boys, so am keen to help educate others on coastal safety.

How hard was it to get in as a volunteer?

The selection process looks at all angles and is about finding the right people with commitment and availability – a lot of the team have no maritime background. You have to pass a medical to get in.

What kind of training were you given?

The first six months were very intense and I was required to pass a series of foundation skills before becoming operational. Probation is a year and training is ongoing. We regularly train as a team to ensure that our competencies are up to scratch as well as receiving training on new kit and techniques as they’re rolled out.

Where do you work?

I’m part of a team of 11 based out of Littlehampton in West Sussex. We cover around 15 miles of coast from Worthing to Pagham. Nationally, there are around 350 teams comprising of approximately 3,500 volunteers.

Are you on call day and night?

The coastguard service is operational 24/7, 365 days a year. We are one of the four emergency services. I make myself available on call as much as I can. So far I’ve been in the service for two Christmas days and have been called out on both.

How often are you called up on average?

Our team responds to around 90 incidents a year. Last year I was able to attend over 70% of these.

What is the longest rescue job you’ve worked on?

Seven hours is the longest rescue I’ve worked on so far, but some of the team have been tasked to incidents that have lasted days.

What has been the most physically demanding job you’ve done?

Every call has different demands. Quite often our shouts are late at night or in adverse weather, which can be physically demanding, especially on long searches in the extreme cold. Perhaps more pertinent are the mental demands of the job. We always have a debrief after each incident, which encourages openness and honestly about how we might be feeling.

What rescue story sticks out the most in your mind?

Christmas Day 2016 will always stick in my mind. I’d spent most of the day in our local A&E with my mother, who had been admitted with severe asthma. Once she was okay, I joined the rest of the team who had been tasked to join our flank team at Shoreham to search for a missing person.

We eventually located the casualty late at night and it ended well. It was a textbook search with local lifeboat crews and a rescue helicopter. It was amazing to see so many of the teams turned out on Christmas Day.

What has been the most rewarding moment in the job?

There have been many rewarding moments and some very positive outcomes where the efforts of the team have made a difference. A key part of our jobs is education and getting safety messages out there to avoid incidents in the first place. The vast majority of people don’t know to call 999 and ask for the coastguard for coastal emergencies.

Have you been involved in helicopter searches?

In larger search jobs, the helicopters are often tasked as they can cover a large area very quickly. Not only that, but they have a trained paramedic winchman on board and can offer vital medical support on scene and then quick transfers to local hospitals. We worked with the helicopters on quite a few occasions last year, from large-scale searches to the transfer of casualties and landside support.

How about rescuing a ship in trouble?

Last summer we were tasked at around 1:30am to a yacht in trouble off Bognor Regis in strong winds and heavy seas. It was low tide and the lifeboats were unable to get in over an outcrop of shallow rocks. We used our water rescue techniques to bring the skipper ashore from his severely damaged boat.

What’s the most common job you deal with in your role?

We’re trained for many different scenarios, including water rescues, searches, helicopter operations and incidents involving pollution, flooding and royal fish (whales & dolphins). Search operations are the most common. I enjoy the challenges and dynamic nature of water rescue.

How does it compare to working in the wine trade?

There are more similarities than you’d think and there are many skills I’ve taken from my experience as a coastguard to my day job, from working quickly and methodically and the value of teamwork to offering colleagues emotional support.

What has been the most difficult moment so far?

We deal with some very sensitive scenarios and support one another as a team. The job has taught me to never judge things on face value.

Do you enjoy being a hero?

We don’t see ourselves that way. It’s what we’re trained to do. If there is anyone who deserves real recognition, it’s our families, partners, friends and employers who allow us to drop everything and respond.

Without the support of my wife, I couldn’t do what I do and I’m incredibly grateful. My pager has a tendency to go off just as we’re sitting down to eat.

Do you plan to continue doing the job for the foreseeable future?

I love being a coastguard and feel that it’s pushed me in many ways and I’ve learnt a lot from it. I have made some great friends and have a wider support network who I know is always there for me.

It can be tricky balancing everything at times, but as long as I have the support of those around me, especially my family, I shall continue to be as committed as I can be.

2 Responses to “Private Passions: An Officer and a Gentleman”

  1. Glugger says:

    Hats off, James! Top job!

  2. Robbie says:

    Nice interview James!

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