About us

The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea. Powered primarily by kind donations, our search and rescue service has been saving lives for nearly 200 years. Here you can find out more about who we are, what we do and how with your support, we can move closer to a world where no one drowns.

What does RNLI stand for?

RNLI stands for Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

What does RNLI mean?

The RNLI was actually founded as the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Lives and Property from Shipwreck in 1824. Thirty years later in 1854, we changed our name to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution - the RNLI - as we are known today.

Having Royal patronage gives gravitas to our cause and is something we’re incredibly proud of and thankful for.

It was our founder, Sir William Hillary’s, aim to provide a 24/7 search and rescue lifeboat service run, where possible, by volunteers and funded by voluntary donations.

Although the service was to be a national service to protect the coasts of the UK and Ireland, Hillary’s vision was to ‘extend its beneficial effects to the most distant shores, and to generations yet unborn.’

Who are the RNLI?

We are a charity founded upon and driven by our values of selflessness, courage, dependability and trustworthiness, with volunteers at our heart. Values shared by generations of supporters like you who have powered our lifesaving work through your kindness and generosity for almost 200 years.

Volunteers make up 95% of our organisation - ordinary people doing extraordinary things - supported by expert staff, all working together to help communities at home and abroad save lives.

What is the RNLI?

With our wealth of experience and expertise, we are proud to be a world-leading modern emergency service, separate from the coastguard and independent from government.

What do the RNLI do?

Every day of every year, people of all backgrounds get into danger in the water. It’s a problem that we’re here to tackle.

Today, with your support, we are working harder than ever to end preventable drowning. In addition to our 24/7 search and rescue lifeboat service, we operate a seasonal lifeguard service. Every year, our volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards help and rescue thousands of people and have saved over 143,000 lives since 1824. Countless more lives are saved through our youth education and water safety work.

In an ideal world, no one would suffer the devastating loss of a loved one to drowning. We’d reach everyone with our water safety advice. If anyone got into trouble, they’d know what to do until help arrived. And our lifesavers would always have everything they need to reach them in time and save lives.

With you by our side, we can move closer to this world. And right now, with our income falling during one of the toughest times the world has ever faced, we need your help more than ever.

Bring the crew home safe

Nothing could have prepared our volunteers for the pandemic. But they kept on answering the call to rescue, 24/7, ready and willing to launch to the rescue. Now they need your help. To bring hope to the brave volunteers who give up so much to save others.

When the coronavirus struck, training courses were cancelled. Planned lifeboat maintenance was delayed. But still the calls for help kept coming. Wear and tear on kit and equipment carried on. Your kindness will keep us ready, for when we’re needed most. 

Please donate to our emergency appeal and give our crews hope. Your kind gift, no matter how much, will help to keep our volunteer lifeboat crews trained and equipped to launch and save lives. Give them the gift of hope this spring. Thank you.

Working together: lifeboat crew member and lifeguard help a swimmer to shore.
Our strategy
Working together with partners and communities, we aim to educate, influence, supervise and rescue those at risk from drowning.
How we save lives
Hunstanton crew onboard their Self Righting class lifeboat, Licensed Victualler, as she sits on her horse-drawn carriage on the beach. Circa 1900-1931.
Our history
Since 1824 we’ve pioneered developments in lifesaving at sea. And our lifesavers have shown unfailing courage and selflessness.
Delve into our history
We are one crew image of different face shots of RNLI volunteers and staff
Our people
From our lifesavers and volunteers, to our staff and supporters, we’re all ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Meet our crowd
Swanage RNLI’s Shannon class lifeboat, George Thomas Lacy 13-13, at sea.
How the RNLI is run
We are separate from the Coastguard, independent of the Government and rely on our volunteers and supporters to run our lifesaving service.
See how we’re run
Launch and recovery excercise of the Dungeness Shannon class lifeboat The Morrell 13-02
Our research

Finding new ways to save lives through innovation, data analysis, and new technology.

Our research
Port Isaac crew in their D class lifeboat in rough seas.
Sustainability
We’re committed to saving lives at sea indefinitely, which means being as sustainable as we can in everything we do.
Our Sustainability Plan
RNLI face-to-face fundraisers at the 2015 RNLI Open Weekend
Work for us
Put your skills to good use and make a lifesaving difference. Take a look at our volunteering and job opportunities.
Visit our recruitment website
Portrait of Tower RNLI Crew Member Tim McDonnell
Contact us
You’re at the heart of everything we do and we love to hear from you. Depending on your enquiry, there are many ways to contact us.
Find the best way for you