Lifeboat women celebrated at National Maritime Museum

Women of Aberystwyth RNLI lifeboat station, 2016. Image: Jack Lowe/National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

A photography exhibition celebrating the vital role women have played in saving lives at sea has opened at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Women of the RNLI marks the bicentenary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and highlights the achievements of women in a variety of roles throughout the charity’s 200-year history.

The RNLI was founded in 1824 by Sir William Hillary, with the mission to preserve life at sea and relies on thousands of volunteers across the UK and Ireland.

Dwynwen, Moelfre RNLI lifeboat volunteer, 2019. Image: Jack Lowe/National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
View from Moelfre lifeboat station. Image: Jack Lowe/National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Featuring a series of 42 images by photographer Jack Lowe, the exhibition explores the experiences of current women volunteers, as well as those who have paved the way in areas such as fundraising, campaigning, technological innovation, training and as volunteer lifeboat and shore crew.

Portraits of women are displayed alongside their lifeboat station’s corresponding slipway, putting the landscape that these women operate in at the heart of their stories.

Leah, Whitby RNLI lifeboat volunteer, 2017. Image: Jack Lowe/National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
View from Whitby lifeboat station. Image: Jack Lowe/National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Lowe’s images form part of his ongoing Lifeboat Station Project, an attempt to photograph all 238 operational RNLI lifeboat stations and crew members at each.

The project began in 2015 and he has now photographed over 150 stations across the UK and Ireland. Once finished it will be the first complete photographic record of every single RNLI lifeboat crew.

Lowe said, "I’m proud beyond words that the National Maritime Museum are showcasing The Lifeboat Station Project in the Women of the RNLI exhibition, championing and highlighting the role of women within the charity, just as I hope and intend to achieve while making my project.

"It feels like the ultimate reward for all involved to have such a bright light shone on this aspect of maritime culture, a vital slice of island life that can be taken for granted all too often."

Natalie, Dungeness RNLI lifeboat volunteer, 2018. Image: Jack Lowe/National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
View from Dungeness lifeboat station. Image: Jack Lowe/National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Laura Boon, senior curator, “Women have always been at the heart of the RNLI from its very beginning.

"Although women weren’t part of the crew until the 1960s, they played a vital role in a myriad of ways such as fundraising and even launching the lifeboats during emergency callouts.

"As the RNLI celebrates its 200th anniversary, it is a wonderful opportunity to highlight women’s roles both past and present."

Janet, retired station manager, Tower RNLI lifeboat, 2015. Image: Jack Lowe/National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Janet Legrand KC, RNLI Chair, said: ‘Women of the RNLI at the National Maritime Museum is a wonderful opportunity to commemorate and celebrate the pivotal role that our women volunteers, staff and supporters have played throughout the 200-year history of the RNLI and continue to do so to this day.”