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.
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 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
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Timeline
Since 1824 we’ve pioneered developments in lifesaving at sea. And our lifesavers have shown unfailing courage and selflessness.
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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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Collections
We celebrate our history through our historic collections based at our Support Centre in Poole and at our six museums.
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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.
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Forgotten photos of the RNLI
Forgotten photos is a 12-month project to bring thousands of historic photographs back to life
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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.

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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.
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Our museums
Our six museums bring some of our incredible stories of courage to life. Use our search to find your nearest RNLI museum.
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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
Resources
Looking for an overview of our courageous history? Our downloadable resources are full of useful information for you to print and share.
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Browse questions
FAQs
Where was our first lifeboat station? Do we provide lifeboat plans for model makers? Find the answers to these questions and more.
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