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RNLI podcast gives a unique insight into lifeboat collection at Dockyard museum

Lifeboats News Release

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) new 200 Voices podcast launched on Friday 18 August 2023 and, in the run-up to the charity’s bicentenary on 4 March 2024, an episode will be released every day for 200 days, exploring captivating stories from the charity’s history to the current day

RNLI/Beth Robson

Today (Saturday) we hear from Paul Severns, who is a volunteer at the RNLI’s Historic Lifeboat Collection at the Historic Dockyard at Chatham in Kent. Paul’s work includes cleaning and preserving the lifeboats, as well as bringing their stories alive for visitors.

There are more than 30 lifeboats in the collection, dating back to 1897, and they range from traditional sailing vessels to examples of some of the latest rescue craft, including those used by RNLI lifeguards and by the charity’s lifeboat stations on the River Thames in London.

Between them the vessels have saved hundreds of live and include lifeboats such as the Louisa Heartwell, a 38ft Liverpool class lifeboat from the early 1900s. Powered by oars and sails it served at Cromer Lifeboat Station under the command of Henry Blogg, the RNLI’s most decorated lifeboatman.

Paul begun volunteering at the Historic Collection two days a week after he retired, wanting to spend his spare time doing something he felt was worthwhile: ‘I’ve always been fascinated by the lifeboats. When we used to go on holidays the first thing my father and me would do would be to go and see the local football ground and then go and see the lifeboat station’.

As part of his role Paul takes visitors onto some of the historic lifeboats where they can sit on the coxswain’s seat and hear stories about its time in active service. ‘They can’t believe the size of the boat,’ recounts Paul. ‘You see it from the hull and look upwards, but when they get in and see the inside, they realise there were eight crew members in the cramped cabin. You try to describe to them what it might have been like if they were out on a stormy sea’.

One lifeboat that is particularly popular with children is the Susan Ashley a Watson class lifeboat which served at Sennen Cove lifeboat station in Cornwall. ‘The rudder is still attached to the helm, so we’ve got them running up and down the stairs to watch the rudder move, while one of their chums is turning the wheel,’ Paul recalls.

Every so often someone visits who has a direction connection with the collection. ‘We have a mural of the ladies of Dungeness who used to pull the boats out across the shingle and a woman came in about a month ago and said that’s my grandmother up there in the picture on the wall. It brings it to life,’ said Paul.

Paul sees the paramount role of the collection as not only preserving the lifeboats, but also making sure their stories are preserved in memory of the crews that served on them.

‘I enjoy them, I enjoy the history behind them. Some of the boats are beautiful. My biggest kick I get out of going in there on a Saturday and cleaning them is knowing I’m protecting them, I’m preserving them and they will be here for many more years, probably long after I’ve gone’.

The RNLI has been saving lives at sea since it was founded in 1824 and, in that time, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 144,000 lives. Funded by voluntary donations, and with lifeboats crewed by specially-trained volunteers, the RNLI is a truly unique rescue organisation with a remarkable 200-year story to tell – many highlights of which are shared through the podcast series.

Available across all podcast platforms and the RNLI’s website, listeners can hear from survivors, supporters, volunteers, lifeguards, celebrity ambassadors, historians and many more from across the UK and Ireland – and beyond.

The 200 Voices series also includes celebrity ambassadors such as The Sixth Commandment actor Timothy Spall, Gavin and Stacey actress Ruth Jones, Irish musician Phil Coulter, gold medal Olympian Sir Ben Ainslie and BAFTA-winning actress Joanna Scanlan. A few days after launching it featured fellow Kent resident and RNLI supporter Jim Moir AKA Vic Reeves.

RNLI Strategic Content Manager, Rory Stamp said: ‘We knew we had to do something really special to mark the RNLI’s 200th anniversary, which is such a monumental milestone.

‘200 Voices is an incredible collection of stories that are emotive, powerful, inspiring and heart-warming. The series gives us a chance to hear from a whole variety of amazing people who have played a part in or been touched by our lifesaving charity.

‘200 Voices is the first in a programme of activity planned to mark the RNLI’s bicentenary as we celebrate the world-class lifesaving service we provide today, remember our remarkable history and aim to inspire the future generations of lifesavers and supporters as we move through into the next 200 years.’

Launch into a podcast like no other: Listen to the RNLI’s 200 Voices daily wherever you get your podcasts or at

To find out more about the RNLI’s bicentenary, visit

Notes to Editor:

· An audio trailer for 200 Voices can be downloaded here and the video trailer here.

· Find out more about the RNLI’s bicentenary at

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.