RNLI has innovated through its history from cork lifejackets to motor boats

Throughout the 200-year history of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), the charity has spearheaded innovation and adapted to the challenging circumstances of saving lives at sea.

In 1861, cork lifejackets became widely used by lifeboat crews after the new design helped save the life of a crew member.

The Whitby lifeboat had launched six times to rescue stricken vessels in a storm but on the sixth launch a large wave capsized the lifeboat killing all the crew members apart from Henry Freeman who was wearing a cork lifejacket.

The RNLI embraced fundraising in 1886 after 27 lifeboat crew members from Southport and St Annes lost their lives while trying to rescue the crew of the vessel Mexico.

Whitby coxswain Henry Freeman wore a cork lifejacket (RNLI/PA)

On October 1, Mr Macara and his wife Marion organised the first Lifeboat Saturday when bands, floats and lifeboats paraded through the streets of Manchester, followed by volunteers collecting money.

More than £5,000 was taken on the day, which was the first recorded example of a charity street collection.

The first motor lifeboat was launched from Tynemouth in 1914 in a rescue of the steamship Rohilla which ran aground on rocks near Whitby as it was travelling to Dunkirk to help wounded soldiers.

Five lifeboats battled terrible seas to reach the ship and the motor lifeboat rescued the last 50 people on board, meaning a total of 144 people were saved by the crews who worked for more than 50 hours in atrocious conditions.

A RNLI spokesman said: “The motor lifeboat proved its capabilities and became more widely accepted by lifeboat crews after this event.”

The two world wars did not stop the RNLI from saving lives at sea despite many volunteers being called away to fight.

During the First World War, the average age of lifeboat crews at home increased to over 50 but between 1914 and 1918 RNLI lifeboats still launched 1,808 times, saving 5,332 lives.

During the Second World War, RNLI crews saved 6,376 lives around the coasts of Britain and Ireland.

And in 1940, 19 RNLI lifeboats were used to evacuate troops from Dunkirk, with two vessels having RNLI crews while the others were manned by the Royal Navy.

The RNLI spokesman said: “The lifeboats and their stand-in crews saved thousands of lives while being shelled and bombed for days.”

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