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International FAQ

Your questions answered on our lifesaving work overseas.

The RNLI’s international work is a small but important part of what we do. An estimated 235,000 people drown worldwide each year – around one person every two minutes. (Source: Global Health Estimates 2020, World Health Organization). When hundreds of thousands of people are dying, something must be done. 

These are preventable deaths and the RNLI believes this needs to change. We want to use our experience, knowledge and commitment to help tackle the problem and save more lives. We won’t stand by while anyone, anywhere drowns. We work with partners globally and in countries where drowning is a significant problem, to raise awareness, widen the research and identify ways of saving more lives. 

Our lifesaving expertise has been built up over nearly 200 years and we can help others in the international lifesaving community to improve their services and tackle drowning. 

Our founder, Sir William Hillary, had the vision when he appealed to the nation for a national lifeboat service, that we ‘should extend our views [of drowning prevention] from our own immediate coasts, to the most remote quarters of the globe, and to every neighbouring state’. This remains relevant today. 

Our international work also provides the opportunity for the RNLI to appeal to a wider audience and potential future supporters.

No. Providing the very best service in the UK and Ireland remains our priority but we also wish to use our expertise, knowledge and influence to help others save lives across the world, particularly in countries where drowning rates are high. In 2022, we spent less than 2% of the RNLI’s total charitable expenditure on our international drowning prevention activity.

Globally, drowning continues to be a ‘hidden epidemic’ and therefore drowning prevention has often not even been considered or prioritised due to a lack of resources, knowledge or skills. The first ever United Nations resolution on drowning prevention adopted in 2021 will go some way to start to tackle this lack of awareness and we work in partnership with others to gather data and evidence on the problem and the impact on communities. We also share our expertise and demonstrate cost effective approaches to drowning reduction. Encouragingly, all this work to date has resulted in countries taking positive action to implement sustainable drowning reduction interventions themselves.

In 2022, we spent £2.9M (less than 2%) of the RNLI’s total charitable spend on our overseas work.

The international drowning problem is vast, but our work so far has shown that simple, inexpensive solutions are very effective; a small amount spent on overseas projects goes a long way and makes a big difference.

Our international drowning prevention work includes raising awareness of drowning risks and solutions, building evidence of what works, encouraging the inclusion of drowning prevention within policies of key governments and institutions, building partnerships and building capacity and capability. Our aim is to help ensure that drowning prevention is a higher priority and better resourced in areas of the world with the greatest burden.

In addition to seeking donations from individuals, trusts, foundations and other international development donors who specifically want to fund our international activity, our international work has access to RNLI general funds, where needed, in the same way as our domestic activity.  We typically spend around 2% of our total charitable expenditure on international work and this investment does not and will not impact our domestic rescue services.

The RNLI is providing training and equipment to the Hellenic Rescue Team (HRT). It provides a volunteer lifeboat service in the narrow channels between Turkey and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have made the crossing and hundreds of people have died, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

The RNLI is one of a group of European maritime search and rescue (SAR) services who have agreed to help HRT with the migrant crisis under the banner of the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF). The IMRF is the international charity that works with government and non-government SAR organisations to prevent loss of life in the world's waters.

The RNLI is joining forces with the German (DGzRS), Dutch (KNRM) and Swedish (SSRS) maritime SAR organisations, to strengthen the local search and rescue services in the Aegean. We’ll help with coordination, training and the provision of equipment and rescue boats during 2016.