The islands of Britain and Ireland have always been at the mercy of the sea. From our workshop on the Cornish coast we see and feel first hand how powerful and unpredictable the ocean can be. In the early 19th century, there was an average of 1,800 shipwrecks a year around our coasts. For the men who called the sea their home, the danger was accepted. Coastal communities often watched helplessly as vessels foundered.
Sir William Hillary refused to sit by and watch people drown. After witnessing the destruction of dozens of ships from his home on the Isle of Man, and getting involved in rescue attempts himself, Hillary had an idea. Like many of the best ideas it was born from the confines of a London tavern. He published a pamphlet detailing his plans for a lifeboat service manned by trained crews for all of the UK and Ireland. He appealed to the Navy, the government and other ‘eminent characters’ for help in forming ‘a national institution for the preservation of lives and property from shipwreck’. His idea fell on deaf ears.

He held his vision close and undeterred he rebranded his appeal for the more philanthropic members of London society. And this time it worked. His vision for a service dedicated to saving lives at sea became a reality on 4 March 1824. He called it the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, the name was changed to Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1854.
From that day to this, its mostly unpaid volunteers have performed countless acts of heroism, putting their lives on the line to save others. In all, they’ve saved over 140,000 lives since the charity’s foundation in 1824. We are proud to highlight the men and women who give up their time to save lives at sea, from lifeboat crew to lifeguards. We salute you.
Photos courtesy of Nigel Millard