Westminster Abbey marks the 200th anniversary of the RNLI

Monday, 4th March 2024

The Duke of Kent talking to someone from the RNLI

His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent today attended a service of Thanksgiving to mark 200 years of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

The Duke, the charity’s President, was joined in the Abbey by an 1,800-strong congregation including representatives from RNLI lifesaving communities around the UK and Ireland. The service took place at the same time the RNLI founding papers were created 200 years ago.

Since being founded in 1824 the charity’s lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 146,000 lives. In Monday’s service the charity commemorated its history, reflected on the lifesaving service it provides today, and looked ahead to inspire future generations of lifesavers and supporters.

To celebrate the anniversary, three RNLI lifeboats were brought to the Abbey. They included the historic William Riley, an oar-powered boat built in 1909, which remained in active service until 1931; a modern Shannon class boat, the RNLI's most agile and manoeuvrable all-weather lifeboat; and a D class lifeboat - first introduced into the RNLI fleet in 1963, the design of the inflatable D class lifeboat has continued to evolve

'200 years is something extraordinary to celebrate'

The service was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, who said in his Bidding:

‘Today we rejoice in the life-saving work of the RNLI over two hundred proud and distinguished years. We honour the vision of Sir William Hillary, who founded the charity, and pay tribute to the thousands of volunteers and staff who have given so much, so often, so selflessly. We also give thanks for the generosity that has sustained this work. Here, we rededicate ourselves to the work of compassion and courage that reaches out over rough seas to embrace the stranger and rescue those in despair.’

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, gave the Address, saying:

‘The RNLI is a beautiful image and call to self-giving. It imitates the grace of God who in the person of Jesus who lived in the first century and through his reconciliation, holds out his hand to those who seek saving. We need only cry like the disciples, Lord help us, we perish. 200 years is something extraordinary to celebrate. A common purpose for 200 years is almost unknown. Saving life is the most precious gift of all, and the basis of these gifts in the life and self-giving of God is a model for everyone. So, as it shows that model, may God continue to bless and protect those who serve in the RNLI.’

More about the service

Martin Stephen, a rescuee, read from Appeal to the Nation, written by the RNLI’s founder, Sir William Hillary; His Excellency Mr Martin Fraser, Ambassador of Ireland to Great Britain; Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence; and Janet Legrand, Chair of the RNLI, were among those reading prayers.

As the service drew to a close, the Chief Executive of the RNLI, Mark Dowie, gave the Vote of Thanks, saying:

‘I would like you to join me in commemorating all those who have selflessly given their lives to help save others and freely given their time, energy, and passion for our cause since 1824. On behalf of the whole RNLI family and the communities we serve, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all those remarkable volunteers.
‘Let us also celebrate the achievements of today’s crew, volunteers, communities, and supporters. They provide a world-class lifesaving service, based on 200 years of learning, expertise and innovation. They are people of all ages, active all around and across our nations, from diverse backgrounds, united by the RNLI’s vision: to save every one we can.’

At the end of the service The Duke of Kent added his signature to the RNLI’s 200th Pledge Scroll, which has also been signed by the Dean of Westminster and Archbishop of Canterbury.

Watch the service


This service will be available to watch until 11.30am on Wednesday 3rd April.

Order of Service