Behind-The-Scenes of the RNLI


The story in last months WWO about our local lifeboat crews and stations was just to whet your appetites about the local RNLI. Most of you will have viewed BBC2’s programme “Saving Lives At Sea” about the day-to-day work of the RNLI but I thought it’d be a bit more interesting to find out about what goes on behind-the-scenes of the RNLI. How does it operate? What equipment does it use? Where are our local stations? What have they recently responded to? And more importantly who are those volunteers who press ‘pause’ on their lives to respond in times of need.

So firstly a pen picture of the RNLI – it was formed in 1824 by Sir William Hillary and since that time has saved an incredible 142,200 lives. It is 100% a charitable organisation receiving no support whatsoever from either the UK nor Irish governments and is wholly dependant on voluntary donations. It costs over £177 million to run the RNLI including its 238 stations strategically located around the entire coast of the UK and Ireland and its UK HQ base in Poole. It is staffed by about 4,600 people mostly volunteers from local communities who undertake a multitude of tasks within and across the RNLI and keep the ‘oils wheeled’ and the propellers turning!

Locally there are 3 RNLI lifeboat stations; Barry Dock, Penarth and Porthcawl and each has its own allocated jurisdiction broadly covering the western coast of the entire Severn Estuary. However they all support one another whenever needed so geography is largely irrelevant. Each RNLI station is equipped with boats; equipment and staff according to its specific role. Those stations covering large expanses of ocean and unpredictable, turbulent seas are provided with the larger boats like the Mersey and Trent class whereas those covering inland coastal areas are equipped with smaller, more agile RHIB’s (Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats) like the Atlantic 85 or inflatable such as the D Class. The RNLI also uses craft specifically for unique waterways such as hovercraft for large mudflats and estuaries and the very fast E Class on the Thames. More on those in future articles.

Locally Barry Dock uses a large Trent class All- Weather Lifeboat named “Inner Wheel II” which is moored permanently afloat alongside a floating pontoon in Barry Dock. Penarth and Porthcawl are both equipped with an Atlantic 85 RHIB and a D Class Inshore Lifeboat (ILB) which are kept in purpose built lifeboat stations on their respective seafronts. Recently however Barry Dock has also been upgraded to a two boat station with the allocation of a further D Class ILB. Again, more of that in future articles.

So, that just starts to paint the picture of what is a fascinating organisation with an amazing history staffed by incredible people and brilliantly capable equipment. If you want to find out more feel free to visit the excellent RNLI website at

where you can read about everything RNLI.

Looking ahead I will hopefully provide photos and updates on rescues (or “Shouts” as they’re called) and pen pictures of our volunteer crew members who live in our communities here in the Vale Of Glamorgan