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St Bees Lifeboat Station celebrates RNLI’s 200th anniversary

Lifeboats News Release

On Monday 4 March 2024 the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) will celebrate 200 years of saving lives at sea – thanks to volunteers, like those at St Bees Lifeboat Station, giving their time to save others, all funded by voluntary public donations.

The first lifeboat at St Bees coming back up the ramp

RNLI/Colin Wadey

St Bees first lifeboat

St Bees RNLI Lifeboat Station was placed on service in September 1970 and in that time its’ crews have launched the lifeboat 496 times and saved 71 lives.

Framed Letters of Thanks were presented in 1982 to three crew members. They swam about 200 yards from the shore in a gale and a rough sea to rescue two men and a boy on a yacht stranded on a rocky outcrop.

In 1993 the volunteers rescued a crew from a fishing vessel. The boat was stranded on an isolated outcrop of rocks. Shortly after the survivors were taken off the vessel broke up. A Bronze Medal was awarded to the St Bees helm. A Thanks on Vellum was also awarded to the helm and two crew members for their courage and determination throughout this rescue.

A Service of Thanksgiving to mark 200 years of the RNLI will take place at Westminster Abbey in London on 4 March. It will be attended by representatives from RNLI lifesaving communities around the UK and Ireland, including Ian Wrigley and Alistair Graham from St Bees RNLI.

Ian and Alistair will both celebrate 40 years of service with St Bees RNLI five days later on the 9 March.

Dick Beddows, St Bees RNLI Operations Manager says: ‘The RNLI has been saving lives at sea for 200 years and at St Bees since 1970. We are the latest generation carrying on the lifesaving work which has been carried out by many before us.

'Some of our volunteers in the past brought down members of their family to join our crew. Like many RNLI stations around the coast this tradition continues at St Bees. We are looking forward to celebrating 200 years of the RNLI not only today but throughout 2024’.

Founded in a London tavern on 4 March 1824 following an appeal from Sir William Hillary, who lived on the Isle of Man and witnessed many shipwrecks, the RNLI has continued saving lives at sea throughout the tests of its history, including tragic disasters, funding challenges and two World Wars.

Two centuries have seen vast developments in the lifeboats and kit used by the charity’s lifesavers – from the early oar-powered vessels to today’s technology-packed boats, which are now built in-house by the charity; and from the rudimentary cork lifejackets of the 1850s to the full protective kit each crew member is now issued with.

The RNLI’s lifesaving reach and remit has also developed over the course of 200 years. Today, it operates 238 lifeboat stations around the UK and Ireland, including four on the River Thames, and has seasonal lifeguards on over 240 lifeguarded beaches around the UK. It designs and builds its own lifeboats and runs domestic and international water safety programmes.

While much has changed in 200 years, two things have remained the same – the charity’s dependence on volunteers, who give their time and commitment to save others, and the voluntary contributions from the public which have funded the service for the past two centuries.

RNLI Chief Executive, Mark Dowie, says:

‘It has been an honour and a privilege to be at the helm of the RNLI for the past five years, and to see the charity reach its bicentenary. For a charity to have survived 200 years based on the time and commitment of volunteers, and the sheer generosity of the public donating to fund it, is truly remarkable. It is through the courage and dedication of its incredible people that the RNLI has survived the tests of time, including tragic losses, funding challenges, two World Wars and, more recently, a global pandemic.

‘Today, we mark the bicentenary of the RNLI. We remember the achievements and commitment of all those who have been part of the RNLI family over the past two centuries; we celebrate the world-class lifesaving service we provide today, based on our 200 years of learning, expertise and innovation, and we hope to inspire future generations of lifesavers and supporters who will take the RNLI into its next century and beyond.

‘I am immensely grateful to everyone who is involved with the charity – our volunteers, supporters and staff. This is our watch and it is our role to keep our charity safe and secure so it can continue to save lives into the future, as we strive in our vision to save every one.’

Throughout its bicentenary year, the charity is running events and activities to remember its important history and celebrate the modern lifesaving service it is today, while hoping to inspire generations of future lifesavers and supporters.

For further information about the RNLI’s 200th anniversary, visit

The current lifeboat at St Bees coming back up the ramp

RNLI/Colin Wadey

St Bees current lifeboat Joy Morris MBE

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.