The first lifeboat was founded at Bamborough Castle in Northumberland in 1786. Lionel Lukin, a London coachbuilder, set out to build an unsinkable boat. He bought a Norway yawl which he fitted with projecting cork gunwales, air compartments running full length and air boxes at bow and stern. A heavy iron keel was incorporated to keep the boat upright in almost any kind of sea. He took out a patent on the design but nobody seemed to be very interested in the idea except Archdeacon Sharp, the Vicar of Bamborough, who saw its possibilities for rescue work. He bought one end out of a charity fund which he was trustee and established the first life-saving station in the world.

First Lifeboat Institution

The first boat to be built as a Lifeboat was launched in 1789 and cost £70 = 9s = 8d. It was the work of Henry Greathead of South Sheilds. The self – righting boat was invented by William Woodhave, another South Shields man.


The Royal National Lifeboat Institution was established in 1824. Sir William Hilary of Dunmow, Essex, had once lived in the Isle of Man and had been appalled by the many terrible wrecks around the coast. There were only 39 lifeboats at that time, all privately owned and totally inadequate. He launched a public fund and the service is still maintained entirely by voluntary contributions. Since its foundations about 100,000 lives have been saved.

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Copyright © Ken Wilson 1981