In partnership with the RNLI, discover the exhilarating story of the history of the lifesaving charity in its 200th anniversary year, and the stories of the men and women who have risked their lives to save others, come rain or shine, storm or hurricane.  


A world-leading search and rescue organisation, the RNLI’s lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 144,000 lives since its founding in 1824. From triumphs to tragedies; from oar-powered vessels to the boats packed with cutting-edge technology used today; from introducing the first lifeboats on the River Thames to rolling-out a UK beach lifeguard service; from running the UK and Ireland’s biggest ever drowning prevention campaigns to working with others to save lives overseas – the RNLI has a remarkable 200-year story to tell.


You may be familiar with the story of Grace Darling, one of the Victorian era’s most celebrated heroines, but you may not have heard of Henry Blogg before – the most decorated person in RNLI history, holder of three RNLI gold medals and four RNLI silver medals. Henry is considered a lifesaving legend for his 53 years of service on the Cromer lifeboats where he saved 873 lives with the help of his courageous crew. 

You will be able to experience HMS RACEHORSE’s final voyage, via video projection, and learn about the fabled ship that wrecked on a reef off the Isle of Man in 1822, inspiring the beginnings of the charity. 

Sir William Hillary, who launched the RNLI (first known as Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Lives and Property from Shipwreck) lived on the Isle of Man and witnessed many shipwrecks off the Manx coast. He was made aware of how the townsmen had taken their boats out to Racehorse to try to save the crew, battling the heavy seas with much bravery and decided action must be taken to establish a lifeboat service. 

The exhibition will feature a limited-edition print of Tracey Emin’s painting of a lifeboat preparing to launch, inspired by her childhood memories of Margate, painted in 2014 to support cross channel swimmer James Stephenson who was raising money for the RNLI.

You will be able to see some familiar names amongst the supporters of the RNLI over the years, including several Blue Peter presenters, and Spike Milligan, who in characteristically humorous style donated funds, specifying that it was to pay for a pair of boots.


Tragically over the two centuries, more than 600 crew members have lost their lives trying to save others at sea.  The exhibition will honour those whose lives have been lost and will show a digital version of The Lifeboat Service Memorial book, listing the names of all those who have given their life in the service of the RNLI.

The exhibition aims to show how the RNLI has changed over the years and will shine a light on the extraordinary engineering and innovation in lifesaving technology over the past two centuries, from the oar-powered boats and cork lifejackets of the past, to the modern boats and protective kit the crews use today.

Already home to the RNLI’s Historic Lifeboat Collection, Historic Dockyard Chatham is the perfect venue to showcase the thrilling story of the RNLI during its bi-centenary year.  Entry is included in your Dockyard ticket.

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Sepia photo of lifeboat crew circa early 20th century




Zone South East