Harwich Lifeboat Station
What is the RNLI?

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution ( RNLI ) is a charity based in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland dedicated to saving lives at sea around the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland . It is largely a volunteer organisation and was founded on 4 March 1824 as the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck , adopting the present name in 1854 . The organisation is funded entirely by membership fees, voluntary donations and legacies from members from the public. Its headquarters are in Poole , Dorset , along with its new training college which was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 2004.

The founder, Sir William Hillary

Sir William Hillary came to live on the Isle of Man in 1808. He soon became 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 but on appealing to the more philanthropic members of London society, the plans were enthusiastically adopted and the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was founded in 1824. The title changed 30 years later 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.

At the age of 60, Sir William took part in the rescue, in 1830, of the packet St George, which had foundered on Conister Rock at the entrance to Douglas harbour. He commanded the lifeboat, was washed overboard with others of the lifeboat crew, yet finally everyone aboard the St George was rescued with no loss of life.

It was this incident which prompted Sir William to set up a scheme to build The Tower of Refuge on Conister Rock - a project completed in 1832 which stands to this day at the entrance to Douglas harbour.

The RNLI in action

Since the RNLI was founded, its lifeboats have saved over 137,000 lives (as of November 2006).

The RNLI operates 5 classes of inshore lifeboats, both inflatable boats and RIBs, of 20-40 knots (37-74 km/h), and 6 classes of all-weather motor life boats with maximum speeds of 16-25 knots (30-46 km/h). It maintains an active fleet of 332 lifeboats based at 233 lifeboat stations. It also has an active fleet of 4 hovercraft introduced in 2002 allowing rescue in mud flats and river estuaries inaccessible to conventional boats. The crews of the lifeboats are almost entirely volunteers, the 4,600 sea-going crew members, including over 300 women are alerted by pagers backed up by maroons and attend the lifeboat station when alerted.

The Humber lifeboat station at Spurn Point, East Riding of Yorkshire is one of only two full time lifeboat stations in the UK (the other being Waterloo Pier, on the River Thames in London). 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.

The RNLI also operates 63 Beach Lifeguard Units in the South West of England employing over 400 lifeguards.

How It Works

A committee of local volunteers looks after the day-to-day running of each lifeboat station with an honorary secretary (and deputies) who authorises the launching of the lifeboat. Lifeboat stations are divided geographically into six operational divisions, each under the supervision of an Inspector of Lifeboats and his deputy.

Nearly every station with an all-weather lifeboat has a full-time mechanic, who is a crew member and can be the coxswain or second coxswain. The rest of the crew are volunteers who earn their living in other ways, but who receive small payments to recompense them for time spent on service and exercise launches. Shore helpers are also required where a lifeboat is launched from a carriage or slipway. Each station also has an honorary medical adviser who may go to sea aboard the lifeboat if medical assistance is likely to be required and who gives first aid training.

More than 2,000 branches and guilds work to raise the money needed to run the lifeboat service. The RNLI's headquarters is at Poole in Dorset, and supplies administrative backup to the lifeboat stations and fundraising regions as well as designing and developing new lifeboats.

The RNLI is governed by a Committee of Management, formed of volunteers from all walks of life who direct the overall policy of the Institution. This committee, and it's sub-committees, can draw on a wealth of experience in many fields.