RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection

Discover the stories behind the UK’s largest collection of historic lifeboats, which together have saved hundreds of lives, at The Historic Dockyard in Chatham, Kent.

The RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection at the Historic Dockyard in Chatham, Kent
This is the UK’s largest collection of historic lifeboats, which together have saved hundreds of lives off the coasts of the UK and Ireland. Discover their stories, and those of their fearless crews.

From an 1897 pulling and sailing lifeboat, to the familiar Arun class and Blue Peter inflatable inshore lifeboats, you can explore how lifeboats have evolved over the past century. Interactive displays, archive film and audio clips bring to life the moment of a launch, coping with violent seas and how technology has helped create ever safer and faster craft.

We’re constantly working to improve our lifeboats, and over the years we’ve developed a number of classes and types to fit our lifesaving needs.

When these lifeboats end their RNLI service, they sometimes pass into private ownership - and a number of historic lifeboats have been preserved. You can see most of this collection on display at the RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection in Chatham Historic Dockyard.

Preserving vessels

We're often asked about the preservation of historic vessels. There are many independent lifeboats being looked after by individuals, groups and museums – if you’re looking for information about these, take a look at our list of frequently asked questions (download PDF 271KB) .

We work closely with National Historic Ships, and many of our historic lifeboats are listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels or the Small Boat Register. If you’re looking to preserve a historic lifeboat, please check the guidance given in National Historic Ships’ Conserving Historic Vessels series.

More information

We have a collection and archive dating back to 1824. If you wish to make an enquiry or visit the collection and archive, please fill out our contact us form.

Visit us 

Museum address

The RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection
The Historic Dockyard


01634 823800

Opening times

Now open with social distancing measures in place.

February31 October 

Weekends only



Charges apply (concession, child and family tickets available). See The Dockyard for details.

Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.


The collection is accessible via a self-guided visitor route around the gallery on a gently inclined walkway.