Lifesaving charity warning after London lifeboats launched 758 times in one year

Lifeboats News Release

In 2016 London’s lifeboats launched on 758 occasions, prompting a plea from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) for people to take more care when on or near the River Thames.

Volunteer lifeboat crews at lifeboat stations in central London, Chiswick and Teddington rescued a total of 195 people throughout 2016. Their lifeboat crew members – many of whom are volunteers who give up their time for free – collectively spent a total of 8,485 hours on the water involved in either searches and rescues or training exercises.

Whilst the RNLI is primarily a frontline rescue service, the charity isn’t just about rescuing people when they find themselves in danger. It aims to equip people with the knowledge and skills to avoid trouble in the first place and know what to do should they find themselves or others in danger in, on or near the river.

Neil Withers, RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager, said: ‘In an ideal world our rescue service would be a last resort, and we’d really like to see people paying more attention to safety messages and giving the water the respect it deserves. While we will always answer the call for help, myself and everyone within the RNLI would like to see people staying safer.

He added: ‘Once again we are extremely grateful for the dedication shown by our lifesavers. Our paid and volunteer lifeboat crew at Tower and Chiswick permanently crew the lifeboat stations to be in a position to launch within 90 seconds to any incident on the tidal River Thames. Our volunteer crew at Teddington are always poised to drop everything at the beep of their pager, much like our volunteers at more than 200 lifeboat stations around the coastline.’

The RNLI works closely with emergency services colleagues in organisations such as the Metropolitan Police, London Fire Brigade, and London Ambulance Service, as well as the UK Coastguard in London and the Port of London Authority.

Praising this relationship, Neil said: ‘Even as recently as a week ago, Tower RNLI lifeboat crew showed they are part of a tight-knit emergency services community. On the day of the awful terror attack in London the lifeboat crew launched to search the River Thames amid fears that people had ended up in the water. Indeed, one severely injured woman was taken back to the lifeboat station and handed into the care of the ambulance service. I was extremely proud of the crew and all those organisations that responded so quickly and so thoroughly on what was a dark day for London and those who make it their home.’

Tower and Chiswick RNLI lifeboat stations are traditionally the two busiest stations out of the RNLI’s 237 stations, and 2016 was no different. Tower launched 512 times and rescued 72 people; Chiswick launched 180 times and rescued 110 people; and Teddington launched 66 times and rescued 13 people.

Collectively the three London lifeboat stations saved a total of 32 people. The charity uses specific criteria to determine whether a rescue resulted in a “life saved” – when all the evidence shows without the intervention of the RNLI, a person would have lost their life.

Overall, the number of lifeboat launches from 237 lifeboat stations around the entire coast of the UK and Ireland is up 7 % from 2015 to 8,851 in 2016 (a five-year high). Lifeguard incidents also increased from 2015 to 2016, up to 17,414. The charity’s lifesavers saved 558 people’s lives last year.

For a wealth of information on how to stay safe on or near water or to find your nearest lifeguarded beach, visit the RNLI’s website at

2016 – the RNLI overall in numbers

  • Lifeboat Launches: 8,851
  • Lifeboat Lives Saved: 431
  • Lifeboat People Rescued: 8,643
  • Lifeboat Crew Hours at Sea: 60,306
  • Lifeboat Exercise Hours at Sea: 168,562
  • Lifeboat Total Hours at Sea: 228,869
  • It’s been the busiest year for lifeboat launches since 2011.
  • Launches to people in the water took a 25% increase from 2015.
  • Machinery failure continues to be the biggest reason for launching lifeboats.
  • Missing people saw a 25% increase against the 2015 figures.

RNLI media contacts

  • Tim Ash, RNLI Public Relations Manager (London/East/South East) on 0207 6207426, 07785 296252
  • For enquiries outside normal business hours, contact the RNLI duty press officer on 01202 336789

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.