1884: Design of the RNLI flag

In 1884, Leonora Preston designed the RNLI flag after her brother was rescued by Ramsgate lifeboat volunteers.

Adorning the side of every lifeboat and flying at every lifeboat station, the RNLI flag has been the symbol of saving lives at sea for over a century. 

The design of the flag, quite fittingly, is linked with an RNLI rescue. In 1882, Ramsgate lifeboat Bradford went to the rescue of a vessel that was ashore on the Goodwin Sands. 

The crew rescued nine people from the wreckage, one of whom was Robert A.B Preston. After the rescue, Robert took a great and lifelong interest in lifeboats and the work of the RNLI, donating a lifeboat to the Institution and going on to the Committee of Management.

The first RNLI flag by Leonora Preston in 1884, bearing the Tudor crown worn by King George VI
The first RNLI flag, designed by Leonora Preston in 1884, bearing the Tudor crown worn by King George Vl

In 1884, 2 years after the rescue, Robert’s sister, Miss Leonora Preston, designed a flag for the RNLI. 

She used the St George’s cross as the basis for the flag, adding a dark blue bordering and red RNLI lettering in each of the four white cantons. 

Finally, in the centre of the flag, she placed a Tudor crown and a foul anchor, signifying the charity’s dedication to the sea and its Royal Charter. 

In 1908, the RNLI formally adopted the flag and flew it proudly from all lifeboat stations. 

New queen, new flag 

The RNLI flag from 1953 to present day featuring the St. Edward's crown worn by Queen Elizabeth II
The RNLI flag from 1953 to present day featuring the St Edward’s crown worn by Queen Elizabeth ll

In 1953, after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the RNLI changed the crown in the centre of the flag from the Tudor style, as worn by King George VI, to the St Edward’s crown worn by the newly appointed monarch.