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History

RNLI history photo of crew rowing

Saving lives at sea since 1824

​The RNLI has saved more than 140,000 lives since its foundation in 1824 as the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. The name was changed to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1854, and cork lifejackets were first issued to crew members in the same year.

The 20th century saw the RNLI continue to save lives at sea through two world wars. Lifeboats moved from sail and oar power to petrol and diesel, and the first women joined their crews.

Recent years have seen a significant expansion of the service, with the introduction of RNLI lifeguards and the first lifeboat station on an inland waterway, both in 2001.

Read more about key events in the RNLI’s lifesaving history in our interactive timeline or in our downloadable factsheet.