The RNLI has saved 16,000 lives in the South West of England over the last 200 years.

Monday, March 4 marks the RNLI's 200th birthday and highlights an astounding achievement: in two centuries, the charity's volunteers have saved 16,028 people across the South West.

Since its inception in 1824, the charity's volunteer crews in Cornwall, Devon, West Dorset, Somerset, and the Channel Islands have launched lifeboats 55,912 times, culminating in the saving of 14,967 lives.

%image('17798473', type="article-full", alt="The 1880 Weston-Super-Mare RNLI crew wearing cork life jackets.")

The RNLI lifeguards, who became a staple to the charity's lifesaving operations in 2001, have attended an additional 176,585 incidents, saving 1,061 lives.

The life-saving charity - founded in 1824 by Sir William Hillary - has a firm presence within the South West, making use of 33 lifeboat stations and patrolling 89 beaches during the summer season.

Besides their routine rescue operations, RNLI teams in the region have also responded to some major events.

These range from the largest rescue in RNLI history - the Suevic liner ran aground off the coast of Cornwall in 1907, with 456 lives being saved without a single casualty and the first RNLI gallantry medal was given for lifeguarding to Rod Macdonald in 2003 for his selfless rescue of a bodyboarder in Newquay. In 2008, Torbay RNLI rescued The Ice Prince, a cargo ship with a 20-person crew that had got into difficulty 31 miles out in the English Channel. Despite storm force winds, the crew - supported by Salcombe RNLI and the Coastguard helicopter - found that the boat was listing and at risk of a sudden capsize. They spent almost two hours rescuing the crew, taking eight in the lifeboat, whilst the remaining 12 were taken by the Coastguard helicopter.

%image('17798474', type="article-full", alt="William James Holt lifeboat was amongst the oar-powered crafts used.")

Across the UK and Ireland, the RNLI's service has resulted in 146,452 lives saved; an impressive feat that amounts to around two lives saved every day for the past 200 years.

The last 200 years have seen significant developments in the lifeboats and equipment used by RNLI lifesavers.

This includes progression from oar-powered vessels to the technology-packed lifeboats seen today.

In parallel, early cork lifejackets worn in the 1850s have been replaced with full-protective gear issued to every crew member today.

%image('17798475', type="article-full", alt="Weston-Super-Mare lifeboat Fifi and Charles ON 765 rescuing a boat of sea cadets.")

RNLI chief executive, Mark Dowie, said: "It has been an honour and a privilege to be at the helm of the RNLI for the past five years, and to see the charity reach its bicentenary.

"For a charity to have survived 200 years based on the time and commitment of volunteers, and the sheer generosity of the public donating to fund it, is truly remarkable."

RNLI heritage archive and research manager, Hayley Whiting, said: "Hillary's vision was ambitious and forward-thinking, and no doubt he would be extremely proud to see the charity he founded still going strong today, and to see how much it has achieved."

In addition to their storied successes, the RNLI has also displayed its adaptability amidst challenging circumstances.

Innovations include the adoption of the cork lifejacket following a disaster in 1861, the pioneering of the first recorded charity street collection to raise funds in 1886, and the widespread acceptance of motor lifeboats after their successful use in a 1914 rescue mission.

%image('17798469', type="article-full", alt="Newquay Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat and the Uncle Johnny B-936 and Padstow Tamar class all-weather Spirit of Padstow 16-04 lifeboat at sea.")

As the RNLI casts its gaze towards another 200 years of service, they continue in their commitment to saving lives at sea.

The charity is planning several events throughout its bicentenary year to celebrate its history, remember its triumphs and tragedies and inspire future generations of lifesavers and supporters.

A Service of Thanksgiving to mark this significant milestone will take place at Westminster Abbey on March 4, 2024 at 11.30am.