About us

We are the RNLI: the charity that saves lives at sea. If you’ve ever wondered what does RNLI stand for? What is the RNLI? And what do the RNLI do? You can find out right here. Browse this section to learn all about the RNLI 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

This Christmas, RNLI lifeboat crews will be on call 24/7, ready and willing to save lives. Just as they have been throughout the health crisis. They will launch around 100 times, leaving their own loved ones at a moment’s notice to rescue someone else’s. You’re the lifesaver they need to bring each other - and those they rescue - home safe.

The health crisis has hit our charity hard, yet our lifeboat volunteers are busier than ever. The drop in our income is expected to be millions - money that would usually help give lifeboat crews everything they need. And now there's the extra cost of essential PPE like face masks and gloves. 

Please donate to our emergency appeal today to bring the crew home safe. Your kind gift, no matter how much, will help to keep our volunteer lifeboat crews trained and equipped to brave the unexpected - and come home safe - which is the best Christmas present they, and their families, could receive. 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
Group shot of fundraisers, including cyclists, runners, bakers, dog walkers and yellow welly wearers.
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.
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