Since 1824, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has saved more
than 144,000 lives.
Through partnerships and community outreach, the organisation and its volunteers strive to educate and influence, whilst monitoring and rescuing people who may be in danger in the water. In 2024, we are honouring the charity and its lifesaving work on a UK coin for the first time.
One Man’s Vision
The RNLI exists today thanks to the vision of one man, Sir William Hillary. Living on the Isle of Man, Hillary had learnt first-hand the dangerous nature of the sea, witnessing dozens of shipwrecks and helping save many lives with other locals.
On 4 March 1824, he gathered more than 30 influential Londoners, a group that consisted of aristocrats, clerics, politicians, naval officers, brokers, bankers, merchants and philanthropists, at the City of London Tavern in Bishopsgate. They unanimously passed 12 resolutions that still stand as part of the RNLI’s charter today. These include treating the subjects of all nations equally, whether at peace or during war, and awarding medals for bravery to individuals who save lives.
Shortly after the creation of the RNLI, a stunning act of bravery in 1838 by Grace Darling, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper, helped save the passengers and crew of SS Forfarshire, which crashed into rocks about a mile away from the lighthouse in the early hours of the morning.
Around 4.45am, Darling spotted the wreck from her bedroom and immediately used the telescope to search for survivors, but it wasn’t until 7am that survivors were spotted. Braving tough weather and poor visuals, Grace Darling and her father set out on a rowboat to rescue the survivors. Nine of the crew and passengers were saved and had their wounds tended to by Darling and her mother.
Widely reported, the story swept the nation and Grace Darling was awarded a Silver Medal for Gallantry from the RNLI and even received gifts from the population, including a £50 gift from Queen Victoria. Today, her memory is honoured and preserved at the RNLI Grace Darling Museum in Bamburgh.
One of the RNLI’s greatest rescues took place in March 1907, when five lifeboats rowed back and forth for 16 hours to the wreck of the ocean liner SS Suevic to rescue the crew and passengers aboard. Rowing through fog and around sharp rocks, the RNLI volunteer crew was able to save all 456 lives on board the Suevic that day, including 70 babies.
In an even more remarkable turn of events the RNLI was deeply involved during both world wars, in particular during the Second World War, on top of saving 6,376 lives. The RNLI volunteers towed vessels laden with explosives and top-secret information, navigated minefields, ferried food to remote villages, brought doctors to the injured and took priests to the dying. The RNLI also took part in Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Dunkirk, during which they helped evacuate 338,000 British and Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, returning them to England as the German troops advanced.
200 Years of Kindness
Thanks to their courage and determination, as well as the generous donations it receives, the RNLI’s crews and lifeguards have saved more than 144,000 lives during its 200 years of service. Each donation helps the RNLI work towards its goal of saving everyone in trouble in or near the water. Thanks to donors, the RNLI can provide its volunteers with kit, equipment, training and the lifeboats themselves. The RNLI also uses the generously donated funds to further its outreach and teaching to help achieve its goal of preventing accidents at sea before they occur.
Since 2021, the RNLI has been operating over 240 lifeguard patrols across the beaches of the United Kingdom and Channel Islands. Its lifeguards provide in-water rescue, give first aid and speak to the public to teach them about water safety with the goal of preventing incidents before they reach the water.
Thousands of devoted volunteers run the RNLI’s lifesaving service and it is their bravery and courage that enables the organisation to provide a 24-hour rescue service to the United Kingdom and Ireland. The RNLI volunteers also spend their time providing education and supervision to their local communities, helping ensure that the local public are aware of risks and know how to keep themselves safe.
Thank You, RNLI
Over the past 200 years, the RNLI has survived thanks to donations. In honour of the institution’s great work, a percentage of the price of each coin will be donated in support of the charity.
RNLI name and logo are trademarks of RNLI used by The Royal Mint Limited under licence from RNLI (Sales) Ltd.