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RNLI: 200 Years of Courage

Fuelled by an ethos of courage and dedication, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has been saving lives at sea since 1824.


Envisioned by Sir William Hillary after he observed many shipwrecks along the Manx coast, the service was initially named the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, before it became the RNLI in 1854.



Image credit: Andrew Parish

Since its inception, the organisation has operated as a charity that relies on donations and the bravery of its many volunteers. Available 24/7, regardless of the weather conditions, the service has saved more than 144,000 lives.

Designed by Lionel Lukin, the first purpose-built lifeboat was patented in 1785. In the two centuries since its foundation, the RNLI has pioneered ways of saving lives at sea. The introduction of the motor lifeboat in 1905 transformed the charity’s lifesaving abilities and from there it has adapted along with the evolution of boat engineering, from using a one-of-a-kind, fast motor lifeboat in 1930 to implementing inflatable lifeboats in 1963 to help crews reach areas close to shore, cliffs and caves. In 2001, the RNLI began providing lifeguard patrols and now operate on over 240 beaches across the UK and Channel Islands. Lifeguards provide in-water rescue, first aid, and speak to the public about water safety to prevent incidents from happening.


Honouring Bravery and Courage

With many coin designs to his name, artist John Bergdahl has produced a fitting tribute to the RNLI for the UK 50p coin commemorating the vital organisation. The design displays the RNLI flag surrounded by a life ring highlighting the exceptional 200-year anniversary the charity has reached.



“I was born and raised in a seaport on the Suffolk coast, where as a young man I spent many an hour at sea fishing. It was there that I learnt what a fickle mistress the sea could be – one minute calm and serene, the next overcast and blowing a force nine gale. Fortunately, I never had need to call upon the services of the brave men and women of the RNLI but was always reassured to know that they would always be there if ever needed.

“The RNLI coin design is very simple and self-explanatory in nature; the outer section utilises the Kisbee life ring, which was adopted for use by the RNLI as early as 1855 and remained in use for the next 100 years until it was replaced by the much lighter polyethylene version that is still used today. The central section comprises the RNLI badge to be found on the side of all their boats, as well as lapel badges, caps and other merchandise associated with the institution.”

John Bergdahl

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RNLI name and logo are trademarks of RNLI used by The Royal Mint Limited under licence from RNLI (Sales) Ltd.

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