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Meet Katarina Harrison-Gaze, Fifth-Generation RNLI Crew Member in Yorkshire

Staithes and Runswick RNLI B987 © James Stoker_RNLI Staithes and Runswick RNLI B987 © James Stoker_RNLI
February 2024
Reading time 7 Minutes

As the RNLI celebrates 200 years, we catch up with Katarina Harrison-Gaze, a fifth generation crew member of Staithes and Runswick Lifeboat Station, who tells us how her family became involved in the RNLI more than 140 years ago

Originally going out to sea to save lives in wooden lifeboats with oars and sails, the RNLI has come a long way in the last 200 years. Despite now using motor-powered, all-weather lifeboats with state-of-the-art technology and communications, the courage and commitment of the RNLI lifesavers has never wavered.
© Dreamstime

Volunteers make up to 95 percent of the organisation, including more than 5,700 lifeboat crew and 4,000 shore crew members and station management. It’s thanks to these brave and committed volunteers that since the charity launched in 1824, more than 144,000 lives have been saved at sea.

Here in Yorkshire, the Staithes and Runswick Lifeboat Station, which was established in 1875, was launched mainly to help fishing boats which often had to make risky landings during stormy weather. Despite the decline in fishing and a shortage of men, the station has been fully operational since March 1978.

One family which understands the importance of the RNLI are the Harrisons who have had family members volunteer at the Staithes and Runswick Lifeboat Station for more than 140 years. We catch up with Katarina Harrison-Gaze, a fifth family generation volunteer, to find out more.

‘I joined the RNLI in 2021 when I was 17, although I think the minimum age to join now is 18,’ Katarina says. The day after her 17th birthday, Katarina and her twin brother Alex got to training. ‘I suppose it was because I grew up in a fishing village where the RNLI is a big part of the community and seeing my dad, who is also on the crew, going to practice every week, as well as lots of the crew members being family friends, it was very admirable and inspiring,’ Katarina recalls.

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Members of the Runswick Bay RNLI lifeboat crew in 1952. L to R: Isaac Ward Harrison, Howard Theaker (grandson of William Brown Harrison), Frank 'Tange' Verrill and William Ward Harrison.© Colin Harrison Collection

Growing up in Staithes meant Katarina saw first hand the enjoyment people can have at the coast. ‘I spent some of my best summers as a kid going fishing, out on the boat, or swimming in the sea, and I know that you can love the sea but it can be a very dangerous place, especially if you don’t know the local area. A big part of me joining the RNLI was that I wanted to save lives and help people who are at risk at sea because I am aware of the dangers – you could be a very experienced sailor or fisherman but sometimes things just happen.’

It perhaps comes as no surprise that Katarina and Alex joined the crew at Staithes, as volunteering for the RNLI has been something the Harrison family have been doing for generations. ‘My granddad was on the lifeboat crew and was helm which at that time was called coxswain, and I know that his dad and his dad before him, were also crew members,’ Katarina says. William Brown Harrison (Katarina’s great, great grandfather) lived next door to Staithes Lifeboat Station in the 1880s and was the first recorded Harrison to join the RNLI crew there. His sons, Isaac Ward Harrison and William Ward Harrison were next, becoming coxswain and second coxswain at Runswick Bay Station. Isaac’s sons, George Cole Harrison and Colin Harrison senior (Katarina’s grandfather), joined the crew in the 1950s, and both George and Colin senior went on to become coxswains. Aged 16, Colin Harrison junior (Katarina’s dad) joined the RNLI crew, following in his family’s footsteps. ‘Even before the RNLI existed, in all these coastal communities there were boats going out rescuing people at sea. Now we have this fantastic national charity which gives us access to training and state-of-the-art equipment which is all funded by the public,’ explains Katarina.

Alex Harrison-Gaze and father Colin Harrison © James Stoker_RNLI Alex Harrison-Gaze and father Colin Harrison © James Stoker_RNLI
Katarina Harrison-Gaze © James Stoker_RNLI Katarina Harrison-Gaze © James Stoker_RNLI

Not only is Katarina the fifth successive generation of Harrisons to join the crew at Staithes and Runswick Lifeboat Station, she’s also the first female crew member in her family. ‘The women in my community played such a big role in the fishing industry and they were the ones who helped launch the boats. For example, my grandma was one of the founders of the Women’s Lifeboat Guild at Staithes, so the women (as much as the men in my family) have been very heavily involved in the RNLI for a long time. For me to be the first female crew member in my family is something I’m very proud of and it’s a way of me carrying on the women’s legacy as well as the rest of my family’s legacy,’ Katarina explains.

Read More: The Whitby Wild Swimmer Who Began Cold Water Swimming for a Very Important Reason

Having a father who volunteers at the RNLI has also been a massive aid in training for Katarina and her brother. ‘My dad made sure we knew everything about the tides growing up and I think around only 10 percent of RNLI volunteers have a maritime background, so for me joining the crew with knowledge already, even just basic knowledge, about the sea and rope work was very useful,’ she says. Although they have not been on a rescue mission together, Katarina says her dad is always on hand to give advice. ‘Sometimes he gives me tips on how I could do something different next time when we’re out training because he’s been doing this for a very long time, so it’s really helpful to have him on the crew.’

© Dreamstime
© Dreamstime

Despite studying French and Italian at Oxford University, Katarina still makes time to make a difference out at sea in Staithes. ‘We train once a week, normally for about two to three hours and I also try and read up about navigation so I can practice that a bit more,’ she explains. With term time only taking up half of the year, both Katarina and Alex (who is a student at Cambridge University) head home to volunteer at the station. ‘We both have eight-week terms so when we come home we train and are able to get the required hours at sea which is great for us. The RNLI are very good at allowing their volunteers to be off at uni, plus there are resources which we can access online so we can use those when we’re away to read over information – training doesn’t necessarily stop just because we’re at university.’

With a passion for saving lives, a love for the sea and an admiration for her family and fellow crew members, Katarina hopes to stay close to the sea in the North after university. She also hopes to be involved in the RNLI’s 200th anniversary celebrations at Staithes and Runswick Lifeboat Station this year.

‘I think it’s incredible that the RNLI has been around for 200 years and that our charity has impacted so many lives. We still have the same purpose and we are still needed which I think says a lot about every volunteer all around the country – from the shore crew to the people volunteering in the shops, we’re all part of this incredible charity. As long as there are people willing to volunteer, which of course there will be, I’m sure the RNLI will see another 200 years and more.’

The RNLI are celebrating 200 years of saving lives with events and celebrations taking place across Yorkshire. Visit to find out more.

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