The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is celebrating two centuries of saving lives at sea – thanks to volunteers giving their time to save others, all funded by public donations.  

The bicentenary fell on Monday, and was celebrated with a RNLI 200th anniversary service at Westminster Abbey. While some staff and volunteers from around Cornwall travelled up to the capital, around 50 were hosted at a livestreaming event at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro. Many brought birthday cake to mark the occasion. 

Senior community manager Andy Bramwell said: “The RNLI likes to describe itself as a family, and as families do, it’s nice to get together for these milestone moments and reflect upon the impact an organisation like ours can have over 200 years.   

“It’s also good to celebrate the people who make the RNLI what it is today. I look after all the non-operational volunteers for the RNLI in the South West – the people who run the shops, organise fundraising events, show people around lifeboat tours. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to equip our crew with the best kit or training. They do an amazing job.” 

Russell Bush, co-owner of Baker and Chef in River Street, offered a 15 per cent discount to visiting RNLI staff and volunteers, motivated by his own role as one of the shore crew at St Ives lifeboat station.  

He said: “When there’s a shout, we help to prepare the boat for launch and get it out into the water, and upon its return we bring it back in and wash it down. It can be quite a long process, depending on the tide.”

Russell lives 10 minutes from the boat house, and makes himself available on evenings and Sundays, at any time a shout might be called.  

“When I moved to St Ives with my partner, we got involved with the RNLI to make friends and give something back to the community,” he says. “I feel very proud to be part of the 200th anniversary celebrations – and to attend any event that requires us to wear our RNLI jackets and badges, especially in a town where the lifeboat plays such a big part.”  

The RNLI was founded in a London tavern on March 4, 1824 following an appeal from Sir William Hillary, who lived on the Isle of Man and witnessed many shipwrecks.  

Its lifeboat crews and lifeguards across the South West have since saved an incredible 16,028 lives – 14,967 by volunteer crew in the lifeboats and 1,061 by lifeguards who are paid to be on site for eight hours a day, seven days a week in season.  

Senior beach lifeguard Mike Lay is looking forward to his 15th season on west Cornwall beaches including Gwenver and Sennen.  

“As an 18-year-old surfer from St Just, I just wanted a job,” he recalls. “Lifeguarding was an incredible way to learn a set of skills that would set you up for life: first aid, life-saving, working as a team.  

“I had less appreciation then on the heritage of the association, and the valuable role it played in the community. Not many things have lasted for so long, doing something so selfless. 

“I’ll be celebrating by being in the sea, doing something I love, and feeling safe in the knowledge that the RNLI is there, ready to respond if need be.”  

Monday’s events are the first in a series commemorating the RNLI’s special birthday. The Connecting Our Communities Bicentenary Scroll – a relay event in the style of the Olympic Torch – will come to Fowey lifeboat station and Mevagissey RNLI shop on Saturday, April 6, with further pitstops to be announced.  

The RNLI is also as one of the chosen charities at this year’s Royal Cornwall Show.