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The story of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution

In the days before the welfare state, private people founded and sustained most of the institutions that took such good care of people. Many are still landmarks today. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is one of these remarkable groups.

The Guardian has just pointed out that this volunteer charitable organisation, founded in 1824, inspires seafarers and landlubbers alike. Brits contribute £40 million a year, and 4,500 volunteer lifeboat men and women and another 300 full-time employees risk their lives saving on average 22 people every day.

Last week, 20 Newcastle university rowers were plucked from the Tyne after they were swamped by choppy waters. And in 2005 more than 30 swimmers were pulled to safety after they were swept out to sea by a rip current off a Cornish beach.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is based in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It was established by Sir William Hillary and an enthusiastic public. According to Wikipedia,

At the age of 60, Sir William took part in the rescue, in 1830, of the packet St George, which had foundered on Conister Rock at the entrance to Douglas harbour. He commanded the lifeboat, was washed overboard with others of the lifeboat crew, yet finally everyone aboard the St George was rescued with no loss of life.

His appeals for help from government received little response, but the public came through, and have ever since. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution has saved more than 137,000 lives.