September 21st, 2018
The RNLI is one of the coastline’s most distinctive organisations, with stations, boats and crew members dotted along the shores of Wales.
“With courage, nothing is impossible” was the motto of Sir William Hillary, founder of the RNLI almost two hundred years ago. This inspiring man personally helped to save over 300 lives at sea from his home on the Isle of Man, and yet he couldn’t even swim!
It’s a motto that has served the RNLI well throughout the course of its history, and the institution has now saved 140,000 lives at sea since its origins in 1824.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Sir William Hillary, an English soldier, philanthropist and Quaker moved to the Isle of Man and settled near the capital town, Douglas. Observing storms and rough seas from his home he began to notice the huge number of ships that were wrecked along the coast, and the great numbers of lives lost as a consequence, as onlookers were all but powerless to help.
Sir William began to formulate a grand plan for a life-saving service manned by trained crew members, who would come to the rescue of ship wrecked vessels. He submitted his plans to the Royal Navy, who weren’t very responsive, but after a plea to like-minded MP’s in Westminster, the plans began to take shape. In 1824, Sir William’s vision was realised and The National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was finally founded as a nationally co-ordinated charity that depended on volunteer crews who kept watch and manned life saving boats to help shipwrecked vessels.
In 1854, the institution was awarded Royal patronage by Queen Victoria, and so was renamed as the RNLI – The Royal National Lifeboat Institution. 1854 was also the year that RNLI crew members were given lifejackets to wear. They were very early models made from tubes of cork, but these proved to be invaluable life-savers for volunteer crew and rescued seamen alike.
It’s thanks to an army of volunteers that the RNLI has been able to continue its life saving work. Volunteers donate valuable time, energy and skills every week to ensure the institution runs smoothly. But, of course, working for the RNLI isn’t always plain sailing. With challenges like torrential rain, stormy weather, seasickness, illness and of course harrowing incidents and tragedies to deal with, it can sometimes be a demanding role.
Today, although the distinctive blue and orange lifeboats still form the core part of the RNLI’s organisation, the charity has branched out to many other life saving activities. As well as Flood Rescue Teams situated across the country to help citizens in flood emergencies, the RNLI is also responsible for training and co-ordinating teams of lifeguards who patrol the country’s busiest beaches during the summer months. There are over 30 lifeguarded beaches across Wales, and although many of the lifeguards are employed by local councils, the RNLI develop and train the lifeguards in first aid, lifesaving and casualty care. These lifeguards offer and invaluable safety service for beach-goers during the summer months.
So why not explore your local RNLI station this Autumn. Many are open to the public (some all year round, and others on designated days. See the RNLI website for more details and to find out more about the brilliant RNLI Lifeboats in Wales.
RNLI by numbers
- 6 – the number of divisional flood teams that are ready to respond to flood emergencies across the country
- 22 – the number of people per day, on average, that are rescued by the RNLI in the UK
- 24 – the number of times per day, on average, a lifeboat and crew is launched in the UK
- 210 – the age of the oldest surviving lifeboat. The Zetland lifeboat was built in 1802 and can still be seen at the RNLI museum in Redcar, Cleveland.
- 236 – the number of RNLI stations in the UK
- 330 – the number of lifeboats in the RNLI fleet. There are 5 different All Weather lifeboats, 5 different Inshore lifeboats and even one hovercraft!
- 1884 – the year that the RNLI flag was designed, by Miss Leonora Preston
- 1969 – the year that the first woman (Elizabeth Hostvedt) is qualified to command an inshore lifeboat.
- 4,600 – the number of volunteer lifeboat crew in the UK. They are assisted by a further 3,000 volunteer shore crew.
- 31,500 – the total number of volunteers that give up their spare time for the RNLI
- 140,000 – the number of lives at sea that the RNLI has saved since its foundation in 1824
- 385,000 – the cost (in pounds) per day of running the RNLI across the UK