The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a charity that saves lives at sea around the coasts of Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, as well as on selected inland waterways.
The RNLI was founded on 4 March 1824 as the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, with Royal Patronage from King George IV of Great Britain and Ireland. It was given the prefix ‘Royal’ and its current name in 1854 by Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland.
It has official charity status in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The RNLI operates 444 lifeboats (332 are on station, 112 are in the relief fleet), from 235 lifeboat stations around the coasts of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
The RNLI’s lifeboats rescued an average of 22 people a day in 2009. RNLI lifeboats launched 9,223 times in 2009, rescuing 8,235 people. The RNLI’s lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved more than 139,000 lives since 1824. RNLI lifeguards placed on selected beaches around England and Wales, aided 15,957 people in 2009.
In 2009, the RNLI Lifeguards service was expanded to cover more than 140 beaches. RNLI lifeguards are paid by the appropriate town or city council, while the RNLI provides their equipment and training. In contrast, most lifeboat crew members are unpaid volunteers. The RNLI is funded by voluntary donations and legacies (together with tax reclaims), and has an annual budget of £147.7 million (€168 million). There are other Lifeboat Services that are independent of the RNLI, available to the coastguards that provide lifesaving lifeboats and lifeboat crews 24 hours a day all year round.
Sir William Hillary came to live on the Isle of Man in 1808. Being aware of the treacherous nature of the Irish Sea, with many ships being wrecked around the Manx coast, he drew up plans for a national lifeboat service manned by trained crews. Initially he received little response from the Admiralty. However, on appealing to the more philanthropic members of London society, the plans were adopted and, with the help of two Members of Parliament (Thomas Wilson and George Hibbert), the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was founded in 1824. Thirty years later the title changed to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the first of the new lifeboats to be built was stationed at Douglas in recognition of the work of Sir William.
In 1830 at the age of 60, Sir William took part in the rescue of the packet St George, which had foundered on Conister Rock at the entrance to Douglas Harbour. He commanded the lifeboat and was washed overboard with others of the lifeboat crew, yet finally everyone aboard the St George was rescued with no loss of life.
In its first year, the RNLI added 13 boats to the existing 39 independent lifeboats. By 1908 there were 280 RNLI lifeboats and 17 independents.
The biggest rescue in the RNLI’s history was 17 March 1907 when the 12,000 tonne liner SS Suevic hit the Maenheere Reef near Lizard Point in Cornwall. In a strong gale and dense fog, RNLI lifeboat volunteers rescued 456 passengers, including 70 babies. Crews from The Lizard, Cadgwith, Coverack and Porthleven rowed out repeatedly for 16 hours to rescue all of the people on board. Six silver RNLI medals were later awarded, two to Suevic crew members.
Since the RNLI was founded, its lifeboats have saved over 137,000 lives (as of November 2006).
The RNLI operates three classes of inshore lifeboats, both inflatable boats and RIBs, of 25–40 knots, and five classes of all-weather motor life boats, with another (FCB2) currently in development, with speeds ranging from 17 to 25 knots. It maintains 332 lifeboats based at 235 lifeboat stations. It also has four hovercraft, introduced in 2002, allowing rescue on mud flats and in river estuaries inaccessible to conventional boats. Severn class lifeboat is the largest class of UK lifeboat, at 17 metres (56 ft) long. The RNLI has two main categories of lifeboat: All-weather boats Large boats that weigh in excess of 40 tonnes, boasting twin 1250 hp engines, capable of traveling at speeds of 25 knots and with a 250 mile operational range between refuelling and costing a total £2million to manufacture Inshore lifeboats Smaller boats that operate closer to the shore than all-weather boats and are able to operate in shallower waters and closer to cliffs.
The crews of the lifeboats are almost entirely volunteers. The 4,600 boat crew members, including over 300 women, are alerted by pagers and attend the lifeboat station when alerted. The Humber Lifeboat Station at Spurn Point, East Riding of Yorkshire is one of only four lifeboat stations in the UK which are crewed full time (the others being Tower at Waterloo Bridge, Chiswick and Gravesend, all on the River Thames). The crew live in a few houses on Spurn Point, which in bad weather can be cut off from the mainland. The other occupants of Spurn Point are Associated British Ports, who man their Vessel Traffic Service control tower 24 hours a day, 365 days a year along with the lifeboat crew.
Throughout Ireland and Great Britain, ships in distress or the public reporting an accident must contact the emergency services: by telephoning 999 or 112 on medium frequency (frequency 2,182 kHz), or on VHF radio (channel 16) The call will then be redirected to HM Coastguard or the Irish Coast Guard, as appropriate. The Coastguard co-ordinates air-sea rescue and may call on the RNLI (or other lifeboats) or their own land-based rescue personnel or rescue helicopters to take part. Air-Sea rescue helicopters are provided by CHC Helicopter, the R.A.F., the Royal Navy, the Marine & Coastguard Agency (HM Coastguard), and the Irish Air Corps.
The RNLI needs your support, so please support the Audlem Lass in her RNLI Supporters role and visit the RNLI website to find out how you can help.