Lifeboat stations are a familiar sight on the coasts of Britain and Ireland, but how much do most of us really know about the emergency search and rescue charity behind them? The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is celebrating two centuries of saving lives at sea, and the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI) – also 200 this year – is hosting a talk that gives real insight into its fellow Bicentenarian and some of its many heroes and heroines.

Like the BRLSI, the vast majority of RNLI people are volunteers and there are thousands of them. Their vital roles range from courageously crewing lifeboats or acting as lifeguards on beaches, to running the shops and raising the funds on which the charity has always depended.

On Tuesday 21 May, there’s a chance to hear from a volunteer who knows what it really means to be ready to drop everything when the call comes in, day or night, and dash to launch the lifeboat, in calm seas or ferocious storms  – skipper Dave Nicoll. An RNLI volunteer for over 43 years, he is currently a coxswain of the Falmouth Lifeboat in Cornwall. His talk takes place at 7.30pm at the BRLSI, 16 Queen Square, Bath.

Using historical photos and film, and with the latest footage and news stories, he will show how the RNLI’s lifesaving has developed over the 200 years since it was founded to rescue people from shipwrecks – using only sailing boats with oars rather than today’s high tech vessels. It is a history in which women played a key part.

Founded in a London tavern in 1824 – at a time when there was an average of 1,800 shipwrecks a year around Britain’s coasts – the institution launched its first lifeboat later that year. Since then its search and rescue service has saved more than 144,000 lives at sea, though now it is more likely to be going to the aid of fishing boat crews, paddle-boarders and wild swimmers than shipwrecked mariners and passengers.

Today, it operates 238 lifeboat stations, including four on the River Thames – London’s Waterloo Bridge lifeboat station was the busiest in 2023. Since 2001, the RNLI has had seasonal volunteer lifeguards on more than 240 beaches, ready to respond to emergencies. It also runs domestic and international water safety programmes.

Dave Nicoll’s talk is one in the BRLSI 200 series, celebrating significant events that took place in 1824, the year the educational and cultural charity itself was founded in Bath. The series includes two other organisations celebrating their 200th birthdays – the University of Manchester and the Athenaeum Club in London. The celebrations though begin with the RNLI and BRLSI can’t wait to have the chance to celebrate some real life heroes!

To book this talk and for more information go to:


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