The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is celebrating its bicentenary this year, having been founded in 1824.

It is a charity incorporated by Royal Charter for the purpose of saving lives, promoting safety and providing relief from disaster, primarily at sea and on specific inland waters. Less than 1% of its funding comes from Government.

The RNLI is the largest provider of lifeboat services in the UK. It currently operates 239 lifeboat stations based across the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man and Republic of Ireland.

According to the RNLI, its lifeboat crews launched 9,312 times in 2022 – the highest number in one year since records began. Through these launches, it aided 16,476 people and saved 389 lives. 97% of its crew are volunteers, including 5,700 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 4,000 volunteer shore crew.

As an independent charity, the RNLIs functions are not defined in legislation. However, it works closely with statutory agencies in relation to search and rescue. For example, HM Coastguard, as part of its responsibilities as a responder for maritime emergencies under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, may request RNLI crews to respond to emergency calls. Other voluntary lifeboat services are run independently from the RNLI, including lifeboat stations that are members of the National Independent Lifeboat Association (NILA).

Border Force are the main agency responsible for responding to people crossing the Channel in small boats, though the RNLI may support where a search and rescue response is required. According to the Government, out of the 604 small boat events that occurred in the South East in 2023, Border Force intercepted 544. The remaining interceptions were conducted by the RNLI “due to asset suitability in deteriorating weather conditions.”

In addition to operating lifeboat crews, the RNLI also deploys lifeguards. Its 2023 lifeguard report provides a list of all RNLI lifeguarded beaches across the UK and Ireland. The RNLI 2022 annual report stated that it had deployed 1,632 lifeguards to 242 beaches. The RNLI also promotes water safety through public messaging, campaigns and water safety events.

Further reading

200th anniversary resources guide


How the RNLI came to be


04 March 2024

RNLI celebrates 200th anniversary after saving nearly 150,000 lives


04 March 2024

RNLI celebrates 200 years of ‘saving lives at sea’


04 March 2024

RNLI: 12 incredible tales from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s 200-year history

BBC Countrylife

01 March 2024

Parliamentary material

Hansard material referring to the RNLI [Parliamentary login required]

Lifeboat Services: Search and Rescue – HC Deb 10 Jan 2023 – 725 cc141-165WH

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