Our history

Since 1824 we've pioneered developments in lifesaving at sea. And our lifesavers have shown unfailing courage and selflessness.

Hunstanton crew onboard their Self Righting class lifeboat, Licensed Victualler, as she sits on her horse-drawn carriage on the beach. Circa 1900-1931.

Photo: RNLI

Hunstanton crew onboard their Self Righting class lifeboat.

That service was to become the RNLI. And since our foundation in 1824, our brave lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 143,900 lives.

Today we celebrate our long and proud lifesaving history through our archive and library, collections, exhibitions and museums, all of which keep our inspiring stories of courage alive.

With courage, nothing is impossible
Painting of RNLI founder, Sir William Hillary. Oil on canvas. Artist unknown. Circa mid 19th century.
Since 1824 we’ve pioneered developments in lifesaving at sea. And our lifesavers have shown unfailing courage and selflessness.
Delve in
A Lifeboat Saturday poster from the RNLI archive
Archive and library
Preserving our rich heritage through our archive, library and collections means our story can be shared for years to come.
Learn more
Model of Clovelly RNLI’s self-righting pulling and sailing lifeboat, Alexander and Matilda (Boetefeur) from the RNLI historic collections at Poole
We celebrate our history through our historic collections based at our Support Centre in Poole and at our six museums.
Discover more
Men on shore prepare to haul the lifeboat Elizabeth and Albina Whitley onto a Yorkshire beach.
200 years and counting - on you
In 2024, we'll be celebrating our bicentenary year. See how you can commemorate our past, celebrate our present and support our future
More on our Bicentenary
The Story of the Life-boat Coronation Number
The RNLI’s Patrons: a history of royal heritage
In 2017 The RNLI received a gift of £2,500 from The Patron’s Fund to catalogue and digitise records in the archive relating to our Royal Patrons.
Learn more
Black and white image of RNLI display in Charing Cross Underground Station
Forgotten photos of the RNLI
Forgotten photos is a 12-month project to bring thousands of historic photographs back to life
Learn more
Black and white image of Donaghadee lifeboat, Sir Samuel Kelly, while on trials
Calm Before the Storm exhibition

Calm Before the Storm: The Art of Photographing Lifeboats marks the digitisation of 850 glass plate negatives of lifeboats. It celebrates significant moments in the life of individual lifeboats and their volunteer crews, from starting service to saving lives at sea.

Learn more
1940 war damage on Eastbourne lifeboat Jane Holland
Dunkirk: Relied upon then, relied upon now
Take a look back at the RNLI and Dunkirk, and read more stories of lifesaving courage, as shown by our volunteers then and now.
read on
Entrance to the RNLI Whitby Museum
Our museums
Our six museums bring some of our incredible stories of courage to life. Use our search to find your nearest RNLI museum.
Come visit
RNLI Memorial sculpture, depicting a person in a boat saving another from the water
RNLI Memorial 
Designed to be a beacon of hope, the RNLI Memorial honours the courage of all those lost at sea while endeavouring to save others.
Learn more
Whitby RNLI’s historic William Riley lifeboat with Tynemouth’s all-weather Severn class lifeboat and Sunderland’s B class Atlantic 85 lifeboat
Looking for an overview of our courageous history? Our downloadable resources are full of useful information for you to print and share.
Take a look
1933: Newquay RNLI’s self-righting class lifeboat,  Admiral Sir George Back,  being towed through the streets on a carriage by horses
Where was our first lifeboat station? Do we provide lifeboat plans for model makers? Find the answers to these questions and more.
Browse questions