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United Kingdom: Royal National Lifeboat Institution

Last modified: 2008-07-19 by rob raeside
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RNLI House Flag

 [House flag of the RNLI] by Graham Bartram

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Royal National Lifeboat Institution

I've just finished work on another UK flag that can be seen on boats around our shores. It's the flag of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), founded over 150 years ago. This voluntary organization provides Britain's main offshore rescue service, backed up by helicopters from the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. When a distress signal is received from a ship in British waters (or nearby) the nearest suitable lifeboat is launched, manned by volunteer lifeboatmen.
Graham Bartram, 7 July 1997

The house flag of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution was introduced in 1884. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution itself was founded in 1824 as the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck and changed to its present name in 1854.
Christopher Southworth, 16 January 2008

RNLI Ensign

[Ensign of the RNLI] by Graham Bartram

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution's house flag is painted on the sides of lifeboats (the search and rescue vessels) and flies from the lifeboat houses (their bases). The ensign is flown either at the ensign mast (most lifeboats don't have one) or the main mast. It features the house flag as a badge in the centre of the fly half.
Graham Bartram
, 9 March 1999

The ensign was authorised in 1964 according to Capt. Malcolm Farrow on page 17 of "The Colours of the Fleet". The anchor and crown detail on the house flag was altered in 2006, and so obviously this alters the Red Ensign too.
Martin Grieve, 18 January 2008

Blue pennants on lifeboats

The BBC television programme Coast, first broadcast on Thursday, 30 November 2006 on the United Kingdom terrestrial channel BBC2, the other night featured the Bridlington, East Yorkshire, lifeboat. This boat was flying both RNLI flags currently shown above and, additionally, two small blue pennants. Although they might well pennants like the burgees and "hoist flags" which the RNLI sell - see - they were depicted too small to make out.
Colin Dobson, 8 December 2006

Yes, I noticed them too. I wondered at the time whether they were connected with the fact that the lifeboat was being launched from a carriage - i.e. pulled across the beach and into the sea by a caterpillar-tracked tractor until it was in sufficient depth of water to float away. The pennants could have been some sort of hazard warning, or an indicator of width during the manoeuvre. However, a quick google has revealed the truth: see this image and  this image. They are Yorkshire roses!
André Coutanche, 9 December 2006

The RNLI in Ireland

When the flag of the RNLI was posted to the list recently, some uncertainty was expressed about whether it is flown by the lifeboats or only used ashore. When I was in Dún Laoghaire yesterday I took the opportunity of visiting the Maritime Museum of Ireland where there is a section dealing with the RNLI - a body that is responsible for lifeboats in this country as well as in Britain. One photograph which caught my attention showed a lifeboat with a cross-shaped mast. Ropes extended vertically from the yardarms and a flag flew from each of these ropes: the Irish Tricolour and the house flag of the RNLI. So the RNLI flag is used afloat, in Ireland at least. There were also a couple of photos showing lifeboats flying only the Tricolour, but none which showed a lifeboat flying only the RNLI flag.
Vincent Morley
, 20 July 1997