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Information about the RNLI’s International work

Lifeboats Statement

RNLI's response to articles in the media this weekend about the charity's international work


RNLI international training

Why are the RNLI spending money on overseas projects while cutting 135 staff in the UK?

The RNLI has always been dedicated to drowning reduction. The World Health Organization estimates that 320,000 people drown each year worldwide and we believe that with others, we should use our lifesaving expertise to try and help tackle this. Our work so far has shown that simple, inexpensive solutions are very effective; a relatively low investment in overseas projects goes a long way and makes a big difference.

We currently spend less than 2% of the RNLI’s total annual expenditure on our international drowning prevention activity and we actively seek donations specifically for this work, including the Isle of Man’s International Development Fund and Department for International Development in the UK, both of which have made substantial donations to our international work this year. Providing the very best search and rescue service in the UK and Ireland remains our priority but we are also proud to use our expertise, knowledge and influence to help others save lives across the world, particularly in countries where drowning rates are high.

Since 2012 there has been a steady increase in international expenditure that reflects the increase in the number of projects the team are involved in. However, all areas of RNLI work – including our international budget – are being looked at and we are reducing costs wherever we can as part of an organisational wide programme of activity to get us back to living within our means

RNLI response to criticism that the charity has misled donors who thought they were donating to save lives in UK and are now surprised to learn that money is being spent overseas?

We greatly value our supporters and have not misled them. The RNLI's international work has been reported in detail in our annual reports going back several years and information is also available from the RNLI website and regularly reported elsewhere. The financial commitment to our international work is reported separately and there has been no sleight of hand.

The RNLI’s priority is to provide the very best search and rescue service in the UK and Ireland, but we are also proud to use our expertise, knowledge and influence to help others save lives across the world, particularly in countries where drowning rates are high. Our founder, Sir William Hillary, had the vision 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.

Why are the RNLI involved in doing International work?

We don’t operate RNLI lifeboat or lifeguard services overseas – instead, we support the work of partners to build local capability. Our international drowning prevention work currently includes educating children in water safety and survival swimming; training personnel in lifeguarding, search and rescue and lifesaving leadership skills, and international advocacy to champion the drowning prevention cause at a global level. Our aim is to increase the number of people who can make a difference to the safety of others in their communities, and share their skills so the lifesaving legacy continues, as well as to call for greater awareness, resources and action at a global level. We can’t do this alone, so are working in partnership with other organisations to increase our impact.

Why are the RNLI funding burkinis?

The Panje Project teaches women swim survival skills in Zanzibar. The burkini, which is a full length swim suit is an innovative (and cheap) way of enabling girls in strict Muslim countries, to get into the water without compromising their cultural and religious beliefs. The RNLI have been involved in the Panje Project with the majority of the RNLI’s involvement funded by a donor who specifically wanted the money to go towards this project.

Why is the RNLI getting involved in creches?

The Creches for Bangladesh programme helps reduce children’s risk of drowning by ensuring they have close supervision throughout the day. Around 40 children a day die from drowning in Bangladesh.

Children are most vulnerable to drowning between 9am and 1pm when parents must work to feed their families, and are unable to provide close supervision. Community-based creche facilities provide a safe environment for children aged between 1-4. Run by local women, these facilities provide a secure place away from open water for children to play and learn important skills.

Access to a free creche place reduces a child’s risk of drowning by an incredible 82%, as well as providing essential early childhood development. We work in partnership with the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh (CIPRB), who are experts in injury prevention and drowning prevention. Alongside CIPRB we have already helped to fund 10,000 creche places for some of Bangladesh’s most vulnerable children. All public donations to our recent appeal were matched by the Department for International Development.

Are there any changes or cuts happening to the RNLI’s international work in the current climate?

All areas of RNLI work are being looked at as part of our programme of activity to get us back to living within our means, this is underway and we can’t confirm any details or figures at this stage.

The main priority is ensuring we can maintain our world-class domestic search and rescue service. Any work we do on top of this will not detract us from our core purpose.

Respond to criticism that the charity has become too hung up on political correctness

As an emergency service, the RNLI must adhere to the very highest standards of safety and behave in a way that meets the expectations of a modern emergency responder. And as a charity, we take our ethical and legal responsibilities very seriously. This means that we expect our staff and volunteers to behave appropriately towards each other, supporters and members of the public. We do not consider this political correctness. We are a charity that our volunteers, supporters and those we rescue can trust to do the right thing – whether that’s rescuing those in peril, keeping our volunteers safe or making sure anyone who is part of the RNLI feels welcome and valued. And we’re proud of our volunteers’ professionalism and our organisation’s commitment to being a modern emergency service and principled charity.

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 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and 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.