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The Royal National Lifeboat Institution - Facts and Figures

What is the RNLI

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is a registered charity that saves lives at sea. It provides the 24-hour on-call service to cover search and rescue requirements out to 100 nautical miles from the coast of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland and a seasonal beach lifeguard service on appropriate beaches in the south west of England. The RNLI is independent from Government and continues to rely on voluntary contributions and legacies for its income.

History and heritage

The RNLI has a long and proud history. Since it was founded in 1824, as the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, there have been countless examples of courage, selflessness and dedication ? qualities still shown by the volunteer crew members, shore helpers and fundraisers of the RNLI today. In 1891, the RNLI became the first charity to organise a street collection, marking the beginning of a strong fundraising tradition.

Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboats have saved more than 137,000 lives. More and more people are using the sea for leisure and RNLI crews are responding to an increased number of incidents relating to people engaged in recreational pursuits. In 2004, the RNLI's Lifeboats launched  on 7,656 occassions, saving 433 lives. 52% of launches were to leisure craft users, 27% to people not using any kind of craft, 13% to merchant or fishing vessels and 8% to other sea users.

Lifeboat crews

There are some 4,800 lifeboat crewmembers in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, 8% of whom are women. They are mostly volunteers who come from many walks of life within their local communities and will readily exchange leisure, comfort and sleep for cold, wet and fatigue. Crews spend many hours of their own time training to become highly skilled and efficient. Their lifesaving work is essential, often difficult and sometimes dangerous.

The Lifeboat Fleet

The RNLI has an active fleet of 332 lifeboats at 233 lifeboat stations, which are strategically placed around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. The lifeboats, ranging in length from 4.9m to 17m, enable the service to reach at least 90% of all casualties within 10 nautical miles of lifeboat stations within 30 minutes of launch in all weathers. RNLI lifeboats on the Thames aim to get to any point on the tidal reaches of the river within 15 minutes of receiving a callout.


It is essential that the RNLI offers the best training it can, especially to those who volunteer to risk their lives to save others. In 2002, the RNLI introduced a Crew Competency Framework, providing crew members with externally accredited courses and qualifications. This approach was recognised in 2003 when the RNLI received a National Training Award.

These high standards are being maintained and developed with the help of The Lifeboat College, which opened in July 2004. It includes accommodation, classrooms, distance learning resources and a Survival Centre with a wave tank, full bridge simulator, live engine workshop and fire-fighting simulator.

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