The History Of The RNLI

By Steve Brand | February 15, 2020

The History Of The RNLI

A proud history of bravery and sacrifice

Here at Seahaven Maritime Academy, we are acutely aware of the invaluable service provided by the RNLI. We have great respect for the members of the local Newhaven lifeboat station. As experienced mariners ourselves, we know the important of the RNLI to every person in the maritime industry and anybody else who takes to the sea either for work or leisure.

Since its founding in 1824, when it was known as the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, the RNLI has saved countless lives. The men and women who crew today’s lifeboats can boast a proud legacy of courage and dedication to the task of taking to the sea, often in the most violent of storms, to save the lives of endangered seagoers.

It all began with Sir William Hillary, who moved to the Isle of Man in 1808. With a large number of ships being wrecked on the Irish Sea and around the Manx coast, Sir William felt compelled to do something about it, despite receiving little initial encouragement from the authorities.

Eventually, after receiving backing and assistance from his contacts in London, including two influential politicians, Sir William was at last able to put his plans into action. In 1830, at the age of 60 he took part in the rescue of the Saint George at the entrance to Douglas Harbour.

In 1854, as a result of support from Prince Albert, the organisation’s name was changed to what we know it as today, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, with the first lifeboats being stationed at Douglas in honour of Sir William.

Lifeboat crews continued service during WWI and WWII and nineteen lifeboats were involved in the evacuation of allied forces from the beaches of Dunkirk between May and June of 1940.

Rescues, Losses and Honours

During its long history of saving lives at sea, the RNLI’s activities have resulted in some very impressive statistics:-

  • Lives saved since 1824: 140,000
  • In 1907, the RNLI rescued 456 passengers at Lizard Point off the Cornish coast, including 70 babies; the organisation’s biggest ever rescue.
  • In 2014, there were 8,462 lifeboat launches, rescuing 8,727 people, saving 460 lives.
  • Crews rescued on average 22 people a day in 2015.
Rescues, Losses and Honours

On a more solemn note, more than 600 brave RNLI lifeboat crew have lost their lives in the service of the organisation.

The names of these brave and courageous individuals, who gave their lives to save others in peril at sea, are inscribed on the RNLI memorial sculpture which is located at RNLI Headquarters in Poole, Dorset.

An impressive 2,500 medals have been awarded to RNLI members for bravery. On the gold medal of bravery issued to lifeboat crew is inscribed the words, “Let not the deep swallow me up”.

RNLI Operations

The RNLI is a very impressive organisation and operates on a national scale. It is staffed almost entirely by brave and dedicated volunteers and relies entirely on donations, which can made on the link below:-

Click here to donate to the RNLI

A modern day lifeboat.

The RNLI has lifeboats stations established on the coasts of the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. It has a large number or rescue craft and specialist equipment to assist in the business of saving lives at sea.

Below are some statistics on the RNLI and its operational capability.

  • Number of lifeboat stations: 238.
  • Number of lifeboats in service: 444.
  • Number of volunteers: 4,600.
  • Number of women: Over 300.
  • Number of volunteer shore crew and admin members: 3,000.

Hovercraft were introduced in 2002 and the institution has a highly skilled flood rescue team.

We are incredibly lucky as a seagoing nation to be able to call on the RNLI should we ever be in danger while at sea. Through their actions over many years, they have earned themselves a reputation as one of the most courageous, revered and respected maritime organisations in the world today.

Long may they continue and long may people from all walks of life support them in their very important work.

With courage, nothing is impossible.
– Motto of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution

Maritime Training Courses

If you are considering a career on the water, at Seahaven Maritime Academy we offer a variety of courses including the STCW Basic Safety Training Package.

Seahaven Maritime Academy, based at The Port of Newhaven in East Sussex, is the ideal establishment for Maritime Training at all levels. The links below will provide you with more information:-

If you would like further information then please feel welcome to get in touch.

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About The Author

Steve Brand
Managing Director

Steve is a highly experienced instructor with a long and impressive track record in safety-critical working environments. Training is much more than a job for him, it is a vocation and his dedication and care for his valued students is second to none.


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