National Volunteer Week profile: Phoebe Havill, co-founder of Wahine on Water, encouraging women to train as inflatable rescue boat crew

Posted by Administrator on Friday, June 21, 2019

Phoebe Havill has grown up in Surf Life Saving New Zealand, and spent the last seven summers at the beach as a volunteer lifeguard, keeping beachgoers safe.

She is a member at Onemana Surf Life Saving Club (on the Coromandel Peninsula north of Whangamata), and Whangamata Surf Life Saving Club, and loves constantly getting out into some of New Zealand’s most beautiful scenery.

Earlier this year she was awarded a national award alongside three other lifeguards for the difficult rescue of three kayakers from Whenuakura Island – an island with a hollow centre that the sea can flow into.

Phoebe and a lifeguard she had recently trained, made a difficult water entry to the island through a surf-washed cave tunnel, checked on the kayakers conditions and abilities, reassured them, then helped one make a rock jump into the sea, to be picked up by a waiting inflatable rescue boat (IRB), and towed the other two back through the sea cave safely.

It’s not the first rescue Phoebe’s been part of, and she says the safety awareness and early interventions she does on the beach and in the water brings her just as much satisfaction.

“It’s cool to put our training into practice for rescues, it’s really satisfying afterwards.

“And preventative actions, like putting up the flags to show where the safe spots to swim are, they’re the same – you know you’re stopping people from getting into danger. It’s a really good feeling, to be able to help when we’re needed, and to get people home safe at the end of the day.”

The 21-year-old originally signed up to the Nippers kids programme when she was six-years-old, because a friend had joined.

“It looked like fun, and I really loved it, so I continued through and did the lifeguard training at 14 years old, and I’ve done it every summer since then.”

Some summer lifeguard patrols are paid shifts, but most of her involvement with Surf Life Saving NZ is voluntary work.

Phoebe says being a lifeguard means training, patrolling on the beach most weekends in summer, lifeguarding at events, and plenty of helping out around the club, and stepping up to leadership roles.

She also trains other lifeguards and helps run training courses. And she has been taking part in a national leadership development programme within the organisation, called BP Leaders for Life.

The programme challenged lifeguards to think of new ideas that could benefit the organisation.

Phoebe is proud to be one of a group who identified that fewer women were becoming IRB crew members compared to men, and helped launch Wahine on Water – an IRB training programme for women, taught by women, that has so far had nearly 100 people take part.

“It’s been really satisfying to see our planning put to action, and to see the trainees get excited about IRBs.

“I take different opportunities to upskill myself every year – there’s constantly development opportunities available. It’s been great for me for confidence, leadership skills and general people skills, as you’re constantly interacting with people of all ages.”

Phoebe encourages anyone to join Surf Life Saving, or sign up to Nippers.

“Definitely get involved, it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever been involved in.

“It’s amazing for meeting new people, developing friendships, developing and challenging yourself – there’s so many opportunities to get involved in and pathways to take.”


File photos for Surf Life Saving NZ can be found here.

For more information, please contact:
Phoebe Havill, Onemana Surf Life Saving Club member
Phone: 021 187 5634; Email:

Surf Life Saving NZ media and communications
Phone: 021 636 647; Email:

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