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Maritime non-fiction / History

Bicentenary books about the beloved RNLI

One Crew, by Helen Doe, and 200 Years of Lifesaving at Sea, by Mirrorpix

book_cover_one_crew_web.jpgThe Royal National Lifeboat Institution (always known as the RNLI) celebrated its 200th anniversary on 4 March this year. To mark the occasion, two attractive new books have been published: an official history and a 'life in pictures'.

One Crew: the RNLI's official 200-year history has already proved so popular that it's on its second print run. It's a measure of how much the RNLI is loved by the British and Irish public, who donate eagerly to the volunteer lifesaving service and show heartfelt gratitude for its rescues.

Experienced maritime author Helen Doe follows a straightforward chronological model for her history. She shows how the Institution was run from the very start on a volunteering model, with retired naval sailors enlisted to help local people with the rescues. Fundraising was also crucial, to pay for sturdy lifeboats and give financial awards to those who had put their own lives at risk to rescue others.

The need for the lifeboat service was well-understood in early-19th century Britain, and there was also a widespread dedication to charitable giving as part of people's civic and religious duty. So it wasn't too difficult to get the Institution going, but support has sometimes waned over the years, and One Crew has interesting coverage of how charismatic leaders, high-profile champions and initiatives such as the Lifeboat Saturday Movement turned the RNLI's fortunes around.

The war-torn 20th century saw new kinds of demands on RNLI volunteers, including the rescue of airmen who had ditched into the sea, and the 21st century has brought its own innovations and challenges – from the introduction of RNLI beach lifeguards to Covid and 'small boats' carrying migrants.

Every twist and turn is thoroughly dealt with in this comprehensive official history, which includes useful appendices listing information such as lifeboat classes and current lifeboat stations, as well as an index and bibliography.

book_cover_200_years_of_lifesaving_at_sea_web.jpgWhile One Crew does include a few pictures in a glossy central section, these are not the focus of the work, so for images, it's worth also taking a look at another new title: 200 Years of Lifesaving at Sea.

This book tells the story of the RNLI through media images from the Mirrorpix archive, meaning that it tends to focus on notable moments such as the launch of new lifesaving vessels, technological innovations and royal visits.

For the most part, the photographs are grouped by decade, with a black-and-white photo and caption on each page, but there is also an assortment of colour pictures at the end of the book. It's fascinating to see how the boats and equipment changed over the years, but the determined and proud expressions of the volunteers remain much the same.

One Crew: the RNLI's official 200-year history
By Helen Doe
Amberley, £22.99
ISBN: 978 13981 22352

200 Years of Lifesaving at Sea
By Mirrorpix
History Press, £14.99
ISBN: 978 18039 94413

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