Founded on 4th March 1824 by Sir William Hillary on the Isle of Man the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was well named.
Thirty years on it became the Royal National Lifeboat Institution,a name most people are familiar with today.
In the early 19th century there was an average of 1,000+ shipwrecks around our coasts each year. In its 190 year history the RNLI has had government aid for only a short period between 1854 and 1869.
As an independent body, it continues to rely on voluntary contributions and legacies for its income. Currently the RNLI costs almost £440K each and every day to function- virtually £4.50 per second!
Voluntary lifeboat crew members number 4,600 plus with some 8-9% being female. 90% of volunteer crews have ordinary jobs and it is no longer the preserve of fishermen as it was in the past.
In the 1920s a new lifeboat would cost £520. Today a Tamar Class all-weather lifeboat is £2.7 M whilst the most recent introduction the Shannon is nearly £2M.
With a fleet of more than 340lifeboats, the RNLI has a mixture of all-weather and inshore craft. There are various classes of vessels, depending on the location of the station and the type of rescues undertaken. Some sites like Bembridge have an all-weather lifeboat as well as an inshore craft.
There is also a relief fleet of lifeboats available when essential maintenance is undertaken. Additionally the RNLI has four active and three relief hovercraft, which were first introduced in 2002.
RNLI lifeguards first saw service in 2001 and now patrol many beaches nationwide.
2001 saw the first RNLI station established on an inland waterway at Enniskillen in County Fermanagh. A year later four stations were commissioned on the River Thames. Two of them-Tower and Chiswick are manned 24 hours a day.
A high standard of crew training is essential. To that end a purpose built facility was established at RNLI Headquarters in Poole, Dorset. The Sea Survival Centre boasts a wave tank, full bridge simulator, engine workshop and firefighting simulator. It can even replicate night time conditions.
In the UK the RNLI works in conjunction with HM Coastguard, who may decide to scramble a search and rescue helicopter. In Eire the Irish Coast Guard takes on the role.
On the Island Yarmouth has a Severn Class all-weather lifeboat, Cowes has an Atlantic B Class inshore vessel and Bembridge a Tamar Class all-weather boat plus a D Class inshore inflatable.
Bembridge lifeboat station is open to the public most afternoons throughout the year, operation conditions permitting. Crew members are on hand to answer questions from the public and there are special activities for children who visit.
For groups, conducted tours or activities can also be arranged. Children’s groups (schools and youth organisations) are catered for with film shows, activities and dressing up as lifeboat crew members. These visits can be arranged by the local RNLI education officer Deborah Meadows and Deborah is keen to point out that all visits are free of charge.
A visit to Bembridge Lifeboat Station is the ideal way for children to learn about the work of the RNLI and the other lifeboat stations around the UK offer similar visits.