List of lifeboat disasters in Britain and Ireland

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The RNLI Memorial at Poole

Many lives have been lost by lifeboat crews going to the aid of people and vessels in distress at sea and around the coasts of Britain and Ireland (UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man), mainly but not exclusively in the service of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). More than 600 names are inscribed on the RNLI Memorial at RNLI HQ, Poole.[1] Some losses predate the RNLI (founded in 1824).

19th century[edit]

In the 19th century, lifeboats were almost exclusively oar and sail powered. Self-righting boats had been developed but were not yet widely adopted.

British Isles lifeboat disasters in the 19th century
Date Lifeboat station Lifeboat crew lost Memorial Brief details and references
1810 Hoylake
The men drowned when the lifeboat capsized in heavy seas while trying to aid the grounded ship Traveller.
1821 Sandycove
The men drowned while the lifeboat was assisting the brig Ellen of Liverpool.
1824 Great Yarmouth
On 23 November 1824 a boat was launched by eight Great Yarmouth beachmen in an attempt to rescue the crew of the stricken vessel Jessie. Whilst attempting to board the Jessie a heavy sea fell on board their boat which immediately sunk her and resulted in the loss of five of the crew.[2]
1833 Appledore
Lifeboat 'Assistance' capsized on second approach to the brig Mary Ann. 3 men lost (Benjamin Pile, Samuel Blackmore and John Peake); 4 rescued from the sea by 2nd lifeboat 'Hope'. One man survived in the upturned boat, washed ashore an hour later.
1836 Scarborough
Lifeboat turned over by exceptional sea; four of the 14 crew survived.
1841 Blyth
On 28 October 1841, the lifeboat went to the assistance of the brig Sibsons and was capsized; two of the 12 crew survived.[3]
1845 Great Yarmouth
The yawl Phoenix was wrecked whilst going to the assistance of the collier brig Ann with the loss of seven of the fifteen people on board. Survivors were rescued by the Caister Lifeboat.[4]
1859 Aldeburgh
Lifeboat capsized in December with the loss of three of her 15 crew.
1861 Scarborough
RNLI lifeboat Amelia wrecked on first service. Three members of the public who waded in also died, including Lord Charles Beauclerk.
1861 Whitby
Lifeboat capsized after several rescues during a storm. Only one crewman survived, Henry Freeman.
1866 Gorleston
On 13 January 1866 the private lifeboat, Rescuer, capsized in a storm with the loss of 12 of her crew.[5] A 13th fatality occurred when rescued crew member Robert Warner succumbed just days later as a direct result of the disaster.[6]
1867 Gorleston
Gorleston lifeboat memorial 1867.jpeg While returning to harbour after a rescue a fishing lugger collided with the private lifeboat, Rescuer. She capsized and 6 of her crew and 19 other people drowned.[5]
1867 Padstow
On the wall of St. Petroc's church, Padstow Lifeboat capsized during a service to the Georgiana
1871 Whitby
RNLI lifeboat Harbinger lost in the Great Gale of 1871.
1874 Stonehaven
Memorial to the Stonehaven Lifeboat crew of 1874 - - 1378126.jpg Four of the crew of the lifeboat St George drowned while trying to enter Aberdeen Harbour after going to assist Grace Darling of Blyth, which foundered between Stonehaven and Aberdeen.
1875 Liverpool
3 members of the Liverpool lifeboat crew and 9 crew and passengers from the Ellen Southard drowned after the lifeboat capsized
1877 Aberystwyth
John James, a member of the crew, died from exhaustion after a long service to a Schooner on 20 February.
1880 Wells-next-the-Sea
Shipwreck rescue memorial, Wells next the Sea - - 1049155.jpg Wells lifeboat disaster[7] 11 of the 13 crew of RNLI lifeboat Eliza Adams were lost when she capsized after an abortive attempt to go to the aid of the brig Ocean Queen in heavy seas. The crew of the brig survived.
1881 Great Yarmouth
The lifeboat Abraham Thomas capsized on 18 January whilst attempting to rescue the mate of the schooner Guiding Star. The Abraham Thomas was struck by a heavy sea and lost six out of a crew of ten. The mate from the Guiding Star was also lost out of the lifeboat.[8]
1883 The Mumbles
The lifeboat Wolverhampton was lost on service to the barque Admiral Prinz Adalbert of Danzig on 27 January; the tragedy was the inspiration for Clement Scott's poem The Women of Mumbles Head.[9]
1885 Caister
The yawl Zephyr struck a sunken wreck on a distress call to a schooner on the Barber Sands. Eight of the 15 crew were lost.
1886 Southport
Southport lifeboat disaster memorial 1.JPG 14 of the 16 crew of Southport's lifeboat Eliza Fernley, and the whole crew of St Anne's lifeboat (see below) died while trying to aid the barque Mexico in heavy seas. It remains the worst lifeboat loss in history.
1886 Lytham St. Annes
Lytham memorial to RNLI lifeboat Laura Janet 1886.jpg The crew of the St Anne's lifeboat Laura Janet, along with most of Southport's crew died in the same incident (see above). The crew of Mexico were rescued by Lytham's lifeboat.
1888 Gorleston
Gorleston lifeboat memorial 1888.jpg The Refuge was a private lifeboat belonging to the Gorleston boatmen. After going to the assistance of the steamer Akaba the Refuge was being towed back to port when the tow-rope parted and she was driven onshore where she capsized with the loss of four of her seven crew.[10]
1889 Portrush
Lifeboat The Robert and Agnes Blair went to the aid of the schooner Dryad and capsized off the coast off Portballintrae with the loss of three of the 13 crew.
1895 Kingstown
Kingstown-1895-dis.JPG Kingstown's (now Dún Laoghaire) lifeboat Civil Service No. 7 (ON 409) capsized while attempting to rescue the crew of the stricken Palme. All 15 crew died.
1899 Aldeburgh
The lifeboat Aldeburgh capsized with the loss of seven of the 18 crew.

20th century[edit]

During the 20th century many advances were made in safety and durability of lifeboats, including self-righting and motor power. Life jackets were continuously being improved.

British Isles lifeboat disasters in the 20th century
Date Lifeboat station Lifeboat crew lost Memorial Brief details and references
1900 Padstow
RNLB James Stevens No. 4 (ON 421)
1901 Caister
Caister Lifeboat Disaster Memorial.jpg RNLB Beauchamp (ON 327) capsized in heavy seas during the "Great Storm" of 1901. Asked why they had persisted in their rescue attempts the retired coxswain was reported as saying "Caister men never turn back".
1903 The Mumbles
RNLB James Stevens No. 12 (ON 436) capsized while aiding the grounded Waterford steamer Christina near Port Talbot harbour.[9]
1907 Ryde
On 1 January, the lifeboat Selina capsized in a squall while searching for a missing sailor, throwing the crew into the sea. The survivors were washed ashore with the lifeboat at Southsea.
1908 Newquay
RNLB James Stevens No 5 capsized.
1910 St Davids
RNLB Gem (ON 59) was wrecked on The Bitches in Ramsey Sound near Ramsey Island.
1914 Fethard
RNLB Helen Blake (ON 546) capsized and was totally wrecked on South Keeragh Island while going to the aid of the schooner Mexico.
1914 Peterhead
RNLB Alexander Tulloch (ON 622), attempting to assist grounded Hull trawler Tom Tit in a storm, was wrecked.[11]
1915 Bridlington
During a launch to the aid of the minesweeping trawler Lord Airedale (HMT No. 847), the carriage carrying the lifeboat collapsed, resulting in the death by drowning of horse driver Robert Carr.
1915 Worthing
While going to the aid of the schooner Kingshill the lifeboat capsized in rough seas.[12][13]
1916 Horton and Port Eynon
Coastguard memorial at Port Eynon - - 1315693.jpg The lifeboat Janet, responding to a distress signal from the S.S. Dunvegan, capsized twice in rough seas.
1916 Salcombe
RNLB William and Emma (ON 524) capsized while going to the aid of the schooner Western Lass, ashore beyond Prawle Point.
1919 Fraserburgh
Lifeboat Memorial Statue - - 2026039.jpg RNLB Lady Rothes (ON 641) capsized while assisting H.M. Drifter Eminent.[14][15]
1920 Rhoscolyn
Five lost lifeboat men and four graves - - 865486.jpg Crewmen lost in the attempt to rescue the crew of the SS Timbo in Caernarfon Bay
1928 Rye Harbour
Lifeboat Memorial, Rye Harbour, East Sussex - - 272.jpg RNLB Mary Stanford (ON 661) capsized whilst coming into harbour after going to the aid of the Latvian steamer Alice of Riga.
1939 St Ives
Memorial on the wall of St Ives lifeboat station - - 1548950.jpg RNLB John and Sara Eliza Styche (ON 743) capsized and self-righted three times, each time losing some of her crew. Only one crew member survived; the boat was wrecked.
1939 Cullercoats
RNLB Richard Silver Oliver (ON 794) was overwhelmed by a freak wave while training off Sharpness Point near Tynemouth Pier.[16]
1942 Newburgh
1947 The Mumbles
RNLB Edward, Prince of Wales (ON 678) capsized while trying to assist SS Samtampa which had run aground and broken up at Sker Point during a storm. A total of 47 lives were lost.[17]
1951 Scarborough
RNLB E.C.J.R. (ON 879). Whilst transferring from the casualty vessel to the lifeboat one crew member was trapped between the boats.
1952 Bridlington
RNLB Tillie Morrison, Sheffield (ON 851) capsized.
1953 Fraserburgh
Lifeboat Memorial Statue - - 2026039.jpg RNLB John and Charles Kennedy (ON 790) capsized while escorting fishing vessels; one crew member survived.
1953 Arbroath
RNLB Robert Lindsay (ON 874) was sideswiped by a huge wave and flung on the rocks at Inchcape Park.[18][19]
1954 Scarborough
RNLB E.C.J.R. (ON 879) capsized near the harbour mouth.
1959 Broughty Ferry
Mona Memorial, Broughty Ferry Lifeboat Station - - 1061720.jpg RNLB Mona (ON 775) capsized with the loss of the whole crew while attempting to rescue the crew of the North Carr Lightship.
1962 Seaham
Seaham Lifeboat Memorial (2748044724).jpg RNLB George Elmy (ON 873) capsized yards from the harbour entrance after being struck by a wave, with the loss of the whole crew and four of the five people they had rescued from the coble Economy.[20]
1969 Longhope
Longhope Lifeboat Memorial - - 1066362.jpg RNLB T.G.B. (ON 962) capsized in storm force seas when going to the aid of the Irene.
1970 Fraserburgh
Lifeboat Memorial Statue - - 2026039.jpg RNLB Duchess of Kent (ON 908) capsized after being struck by a wave more than 30 ft high when assisting Danish fishing vessel Opal; one crew member survived.
1977 Kilmore Quay
Oakley-class lifeboat RNLB Lady Murphy (ON 997) launched to red flares but found nothing; on their return they capsized twice.[21]
1981 Penlee
Penlee lifeboat memorial.jpg RNLB Solomon Browne (ON 954) was lost with all hands while assisting MV Union Star in a severe storm; the five crew and three passengers from Union Star also died.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The RNLI Heritage Trust preserves the history of the RNLI". Archived from the original on 5 May 2014. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  2. ^ see: The Norfolk Chronicle. 27 November 1824. p.3.
  3. ^ "Blyth Lifeboat - Station History". Retrieved 9 October 2020.
  4. ^ "Dreadful Shipwreck". The Times. No. 18834. London. 30 January 1845. col F, p. 3.
  5. ^ a b Higgins, David (1987). The Beachmen. Terence Dalton Limited. p. 49-51. ISBN 0-86138-047-9.
  6. ^ see: "The Late Life-boat Accident: The Norfolk News" 27 January 1866
  7. ^ Wells-next-the-Sea Lifeboats. Author: Nicholas Leach & Paul Russell. Published by:Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2006. Work: Chapter 1.The first lifeboats at Wells – 1869 to 1888, page 14, Lifeboat Eliza Adams. ISBN 0 7524 3875 1
  8. ^ "Station history | RNLI".
  9. ^ a b "Mumbles Lifeboat - History". Retrieved 9 May 2014.
  10. ^ see: "Lifeboat Disaster at Yarmouth: The Eastern Daily Press" 12 November 1888
  11. ^ "Peterhead Lifeboat Station - Geddes Plaque". Retrieved 9 May 2014.
  12. ^ Elleray, D.R. (1998). A Millennium Encyclopaedia of Worthing History. Optimus Books. p. 144. ISBN 0-9533132-0-4.
  13. ^ Hare, Chris (1991). Historic Worthing: The Untold Story. The Windrush Press. p. 186-187. ISBN 0-900075-91-0.
  14. ^ "Losses to Shipping and Property". The Times. No. 42086. London. 29 April 1919. p. 7.
  15. ^ "Notable Dates in History". The Flag in the Wind. The Scots Independent. Archived from the original on 23 May 2014. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  16. ^ "Emotions run high at lifeboat memorial service". 23 April 2014. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  17. ^ Porch, Richard (2005). Swansea: History you can see. Tempus Publishing. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  18. ^ "Lifeboat disaster anniversary". Arbroath Herald. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
  19. ^ "Service marks lifeboat deaths 60 years ago". HeraldScotland. 28 October 2013. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  20. ^ "Seaham Harbour Lifeboat (Loss)". Hansard. 20 November 1962. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  21. ^ "Kilmore-Quay Lifeboat - History". Retrieved 11 May 2014.