Our history

On 28 February 1823, Sir William Hillary made an impassioned appeal to the nation, calling for a service dedicated to saving lives at sea.

That service was to become the RNLI. And since our foundation in 1824, our brave lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 140,000 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
Delve in
Painting of RNLI founder, Sir William Hillary. Oil on canvas. Artist unknown. Circa mid 19th century.
Timeline
Since 1824 we’ve pioneered developments in lifesaving at sea. And our lifesavers have shown unfailing courage and selflessness.
Delve in
Learn more
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.
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Discover more
Model of Clovelly RNLI’s self-righting pulling and sailing lifeboat, Alexander and Matilda (Boetefeur) from the RNLI historic collections at Poole
Collections
We celebrate our history through our historic collections based at our Headquarters in Poole and at our six museums.
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Check dates and venues
Hope in the Great War: a touring RNLI exhibition commemorating the centenary of the First World War
Hope in the Great War exhibition
Our touring exhibition commemorates the centenary of the First World War and remembers the lifeboat crews who carried on saving lives.
Check dates and venues
Come visit
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
Learn more
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.
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Take a look
Whitby RNLI’s historic William Riley lifeboat with Tynemouth’s all-weather Severn class lifeboat and Sunderland’s B class Atlantic 85 lifeboat
Resources
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
Browse questions
1933: Newquay RNLI’s self-righting class lifeboat,  Admiral Sir George Back,  being towed through the streets on a carriage by horses
FAQs
Where was our first lifeboat station? Do we provide lifeboat plans for model makers? Find the answers to these questions and more.
Browse questions