RNLI celebrates 200 years of saving lives at sea with Buckingham Palace garden party

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) celebrated its 200th anniversary in style with a special garden party at Buckingham Palace on 23 May.

Around 2,500 of the RNLI’s long-serving volunteers, staff and their families attended the RNLI 200th Anniversary Garden Party in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal, accompanied by Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, and RNLI President HRH The Duke of Kent.

Image: RNLI / Nathan Williams

Among those who attended from across the charity were lifeboat crew, lifeguards, water safety volunteers, fundraisers and recent recipients of meritorious service awards and The King’s Birthday and New Year Honours. One of the highlights of the afternoon was a presentation by The Princess Royal of a Silver Medal for Gallantry to Penlee RNLI coxswain Patrick ‘Patch’ Harvey for his pivotal role in saving eight French sailors during a hurricane on 31 October 2022.

In complete darkness, with winds gusting up to 100mph and waves more than 20ft high, Patch and the volunteer crew of Penlee’s all-weather lifeboat Ivan Ellen battled the horrendous conditions pushing the yacht towards rocks for more than five hours, keeping the casualties safe until they could be safely evacuated by a HM Coastguard helicopter.

Patch said: ‘It has been an incredible honour to have been invited to the Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. The day has been really enjoyable, and it’s been a pleasure to attend with my fellow crew and our partners, who are in the background, supporting everything we do for the RNLI. Garden parties are not something we do every day!

‘To be presented with my silver medal, by HRH The Princess Royal, in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, with my wife Nina, and my crew beside me and in front of other volunteers and staff from the charity was amazing. It felt very special and means a huge amount.’ 

RNLI Chief Executive Mark Dowie said: ‘Patch’s courage, leadership and determination, and that of his entire crew that night, personified the dedication and commitment RNLI volunteers have displayed throughout our charity’s 200 years of lifesaving.

‘It was a privilege to witness HRH The Princess Royal present one of the RNLI’s highest honours to Patch in recognition of the lives Penlee lifeboat saved that day.

‘It was also an honour to meet so many of our long-serving volunteers, staff and their families and to thank them personally for their unwavering commitment. They are all lifesavers.

‘We thank our Patron, His Majesty The King, for granting permission for the RNLI 200th Anniversary Garden Party to take place at Buckingham Palace in celebration of 200 years of saving lives at sea, and The Duke of Kent who has been hugely supportive of our charity throughout the past 55 years as our President.’

Image: RNLI / Nathan Williams

Also present in an official capacity was Cleethorpes RNLI Launch Authority Andy Burden, one of 16 Yeoman of the King’s Body Guard on ceremonial duty.

Andy said: ‘After I retired from the RAF, where I had served for 22 years, I was selected to join what at the time was the Queen’s Body Guard, which is a ceremonial guard to the Monarch established in 1485. There are only 66 of us and our job is to ceremonially guard the King at formal events.

‘The RNLI Garden Party was my third duty as a Yeoman for the Kings Body Guard in 2024 and it was extra special for me as it brought together two organisations that I am incredibly proud to be a part of.’

Since the RNLI was founded on 4 March 1824, following an appeal to the nation from Sir William Hillary, the charity has saved more than 146,277 lives – this equates to an average of two lives saved every day for 200 years. Today, the RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations around the UK and Ireland, including four on the River Thames, and has seasonal lifeguards on around 240 lifeguarded beaches around the UK.

More news from All At Sea