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RNLI archive and library

With almost 200 years of lifesaving history, we take great pride and care in preserving our rich heritage.

Collection of items from the RNLI archive and library

Our Heritage Team based at our Support Centre in Poole, Dorset, collect and care for historic objects and records in our archive, library and collections.

In addition, dedicated heritage, museum and education volunteers across the UK and Ireland give their time to keep our stories of courage and innovation alive.

Together we remember our remarkable lifesaving history - the achievements, dedication and commitment of all those who have been part of the RNLI family over the past two centuries. We’re ensuring our story can be told for years to come, inspiring future generations of supporters and lifesavers for the next 200 years.

Our archive

The records in the RNLI archive date from our foundation in 1824 as the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck right through to the present day.

They are largely held at RNLI Support Centre in Poole, Dorset, and relate to the administration, key figures, crew, lifeboats, gallantry medals, fundraising activities, legacies and publications of the RNLI.

Key items include:

  • papers of Sir William Hillary
  • Committee Minutes and Agenda
  • RNLI Gallantry Medal information
  • (Recommended reading Lifeboat Gallantry: The Complete Record of Royal National Lifeboat Institution Gallantry Medals and How They Were Won 1824-1996 by Barry Cox. Published by Spink & Son Ltd in 1998).
  • returns of service from lifeboat launches
  • press cuttings
  • photographs
  • campaign material
  • posters
  • lifeboat specifications, agreements and plans from 1850 onwards.

(Many historic lifeboat plans are also held at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London).

The Lifeboat Enthusiasts bring together all those with a keen interest in Lifeboats and the Lifeboat Service.  To find out more click here.

Honoured by UNESCO

The crucial part we have played in seafaring history has been recognised and honoured by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), which has listed these early records in its UK Memory of the World Register.

Our library

The RNLI library in Poole contains over 600 books and periodicals relating to the RNLI and lifeboats generally, including histories of individual lifeboat stations.

Historic donations

Visit the RNLI archive and library at:

RNLI Support Centre
West Quay Road
BH15 1HZ