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Ilfracombe marks 200 years of life saving by the RNLI

Lifeboats News Release

March sees the 200th anniversary of the RNLI being formed. Ilfracombe RNLI is planning some unique celebratory events.


RNLI 200 mown onto Capstone Hill

Since the RNLI began, they have saved more than 15,000 lives in the southwest region. RNLI Ilfracombe lifeboats have launched to callouts 1,900 times saving the lives of 450 people and assisting many others.

Ilfracombe’s first lifeboat in the harbour was in 1828 making the lifeboat service here nearly as old as the RNLI itself. The first lifeboat in the Harbour was a large wooden rowing boat, called a gig, with twelve rowers, mostly from the fishing community living on and around the harbour. The service became part of the RNLI when the Broadwater lifeboat arrived in 1866. and the first motorised lifeboat did not come to Ilfracombe until 1936, the Rosabella. The modern Shannon lifeboat now at the station is fast, reaching speeds of 25 knots, self-righting in case of capsize, has excellent communication and navigation facilities, and medical equipment on board. Crew have a benefit of shock-absorbing seats and casualties can be transported completely sheltered from the weather. Crew can even get them a cup of tea. It is very different indeed from the open rowing boat of 198 years ago.

North Devon Council’s Parks Team has mown ‘RNLI 200’ into the grass on Capstone Hill. This is a phenomenal tribute unique in the country. On Saturday 16th March at 2pm the people of Ilfracombe are invited to stand in the lettering with lifeboat crew members and other volunteers for a celebratory team photo. “This will be a great opportunity,” said Jo Bolton, Chair of the Ilfracombe Lifeboat Management Group, “for us to thank the town that has always been at the core of our work saving lives at sea. We hope that as many people as possible will join us on Capstone Hill and we invite people to wear something yellow if they wish in tribute to our crew members, and their families, who give so much.”

On the morning of Saturday 16th March, there will also be opportunities to join a tour of the lifeboat station and see inside the boats. This is a free event although booking is required to reserve a place. Further tours are being held on 20th March at 7pm and 26th March at 5pm. Details are on RNLI Ilfracombe’s facebook page.

On the afternoon of Sunday 17th March, Ann Cleeves is launching the paperback of The Raging Storm in the Landmark Theatre. The book, which she wrote after visiting Ilfracombe lifeboat station in 2022, includes details of a lifeboat rescue.

This latest thriller is receiving rave reviews: a local celebrity comes to the small town of Greystone, Devon and promptly disappears. It is not until the lifeboat is called out in a raging storm that a body found in a dinghy off Scully Cove. The storm cuts off the town and it is down to DI Matthew Venn to sort the facts from the superstition and rumours that abound while struggling with being trapped in the place of his childhood.

Ann has a very strong personal interest in the RNLI as, not long after she and her husband were first married, he was rescued from very dire circumstances by a lifeboat. Her gratitude for saving his life has, since that terrible, event, been unwavering.

Ann will be joined on stage by two of our lifeboat crew who will talk about real-life rescues and answer questions from the audience. Tickets can be purchased from the Landmark Theatre on 01271 316523. A proportion of the ticket price is being donated by Ann to RNLI Ilfracombe.

Gudrun Limbrick, Lifeboat Press Officer says "We are delighted to welcome Ann Cleeves to Ilfracombe once again and very grateful for her support and generosity. She is a very entertaining speaker and it is fascinating to hear about her many successful books and TV series from her perspective. Last time she was here in Ilfracombe, tickets sold fast so we urge everyone to book seats while they can".

RNLI Ilfracombe is holding many other events and activities throughout the year to celebrate the long history of the lifeboats here as well as that of the RNLI itself. Details will be posted on


Crew from North Devon Council's Parks Team mowing a tribute to the RNLI onto Capstone Hill

RNLI/Neil Perrin

Ann Cleeves speaking at the Landmark Theatre, Ilfracombe in February 2022

RNLI/Neil Perrin

Ann Cleeves signing copies of her books at the Landmark Theatre, Ilfracombe in February 2022


The Broadwater, the first RNLI lifeboat in Ilfracombe, a rowing boat which also had sails and was crewed by fourteen men with a coxswain, George Williams initially and then William Barbeary

RNLI/Gudrun Limbrick

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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.

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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.