The RNLI: Why we should be thankful for the lifeboat charity that saves lives at sea

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is the largest charity that saves lives at sea, doing so not only around the coasts of the UK, but the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, alongside some inland waterways.

Thursday, 12th April 2018, 3:57 pm
Updated Thursday, 12th April 2018, 4:01 pm
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is the largest charity that saves lives at sea

The RNLI has a long and varied history, saving people in all different situations at sea, whether it be a group of friends whose dinghy has floated out too far or a boat which has entered tempestuous weather and needs immediate help.

The work that the RNLI do is tough going and strenuous, and the charity keeps afloat through the work of volunteers. They provide a wide range of services and save hundreds of lives each year, which is why we should be thankful for the valiant work they do.

The history of the RNLI

The RNLI save hundreds of lives each year and is primarily run by volunteers

This charity was founded in 1824, and first went by the name of the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck.

When Sir William Hillary moved to the Isle of Man in 1808, he was highly aware of the treacherous nature of the Irish Sea, and the many ships which were frequently wrecked around the Manx coast.

With this in mind, Hillary drew up plans for a national lifeboat service which was to be manned by trained crews. After he initially received little response from the Admiralty, he appealed to philanthropic members of London society, where, with the help of Member of Parliament Thomas Wilson and former MP and merchant George Hibbert, the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was born.

The RNLI was then granted a Royal Charter in 1860 and Queen Elizabeth II is its Patron.

The RNLI save hundreds of lives each year and is primarily run by volunteers

In its first year the RNLI raised £10,000, but by 1849 income had dropped to just £354 and the charity’s finances continued to be up and down for the next few decades.

However, after the loss of 27 lifeboat crew of Southport and St Annes in 1886, a new surge of fundraising happened and a fresh appeal raised £10,000.


The RNLI made a great contribution to both WWI and WII. During World War I, lifeboat crews launched 1,808 times, rescuing around 5,332 people. Older men stepped in for the younger men who were on active service, with the average age of a lifeboatman being over 50.

These lifeboats went out to ships that had been torpedoed or which had struck mines, this including naval or merchant vessels on war duty.

The RNLI aided the hospital ship SS Rohilla in 1914, sending out 6 lifeboats and saving 144 lives over a 50-hour rescue mission period.

The RNLI also aided during the Dunkirk evacuation, with RNLI lifeboats sailing to Dunkirk between May 27 and June 4 1940 to.

Lifeboats from Ramsgate and Margate went directly to France with their own crews and the crew of Ramsgate's Prudential collected 2,800 troops.

Margate's Coxswain, Edward Parker, was then awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for his work taking the RNLB Lord Southborough to the beaches, showing the heroic work RNLI workers do.

The present day

The RNLI is principally funded by legacies and donations with most lifeboat crew members being unpaid volunteers.

There are now over 350 lifeboats in the RNLI fleet based at the various stations around the UK and Ireland.

Between them all, RNLI lifeboats cover over 19,000 miles of coastline and some busy inland stretches of water

They have over 100 lifeboats in their relief fleet, which are instantly ready to temporarily replace station lifeboats whenever they may require regular or emergency maintenance.

The lifeboats are divided into two categories: all-weather lifeboats and inshore lifeboats and the different lifeboat classes within these categories means volunteers can reach people in all kinds of situations and locations.

The type of lifeboat a station has depends on it geographical location and features and the kind of rescues the station is usually involved in, taking into account the cover provided by neighbouring lifeboat stations.

The work that the RNLI do allows millions of people to enjoy the seas, beaches and waterways every year, as the water remains an unpredictable environment which can easily and unknowingly catch people out.

RNLI workers work round the clock to ensure that whatever the weather and whatever the time, they are there to answer the call and save lives.

This charity has been going for many years, despite financial difficulty and two world wars, and we should be thankful for those who make a huge personal commitment and sacrifice in order to save the lives of many people out at sea.