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Lifeboats are used to rescue shipwrecked people or people abandoning ship. They are carried on all ships that travel on the oceans in the case of an emergency. There are also rescue lifeboats that operate from onshore stations, to rescue people in trouble on the sea or on rivers.


The design of a lifeboat depends on whether it is intended to be carried onboard a ship or if it is to be launched from shore. Ships travelling at sea carry lifeboats or life-rafts onboard. If there is an emergency, the crew and passengers are able to leave the ship and board these lifeboats. The lifeboats should be unsinkable and hold some provisions to keep the passengers safe until they can be rescued.

There are different sizes and designs of rescue lifeboat to suit different conditions. For rescues close to the shore, smaller boats are used. For those further out at sea larger boats are used. The small boats can carry two or three crew members. The large boats carry up to six crew members. Small boats are inflatable and can go very fast. The large boats are sturdier and can withstand all types of weather conditions. They have navigation and communications equipment on board.

There are different designs of the small and large lifeboats, according to the coastal conditions they work in. There is even a type of small hovercraft used that can launch on most kinds of flat land.

Lifeboats have to be strong and are designed to float very well and to be stable, even in stormy waters. There is a self-bailing facility on lifeboats, which means that any water that might get into the boat is pumped out. If a large, all-weather lifeboat capsizes, it is designed to turn the right way up by itself. Small lifeboats have motors but can also be moved using oars.


Lifeboats have been used to save shipwrecked sailors since the end of the 18th century. Then, in 1824, the first national sea rescue service in the world was established in Britain. It was set up by a lifeboatman called Sir William Hillary. The service was called The National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. Its name was changed to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) 30 years later.


The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the oldest national lifeboat service in the world. It operates lifeboats around the coastlines of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to save lives at sea. It also operates a beach rescue service.

The RNLI is a charity. It does not receive any money from the government and instead is funded by voluntary donations from the public. The headquarters of the RNLI is in Poole, Dorset. There are more than 200 RNLI lifeboat stations around the UK and Ireland. The organization also has many fundraising offices.

RNLI sea rescues are carried out together with other rescue organizations such as the coastguard and the 999 emergency services. The RNLI operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year. There are over 300 lifeboats in the RNLI’s fleet. Crew members around the UK and Ireland are trained regularly in manning lifeboats and saving lives. They are all unpaid volunteers who have ordinary jobs as well, such as teachers, solicitors or builders. On average, the RNLI saves the lives of four people every day.

There are national lifeboat services in many countries around the world, and the RNLI acts as an administrator for the International Lifeboat Federation (ILF). The ILF coordinates sea rescues across 62 countries in the world and works with the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency.

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