We are Looe RNLI….With your support, we save lives at sea

The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), a charity registered in England and Wales (209603), Scotland (SC037736), the Republic of Ireland (20003326), the Bailiwick of Jersey (14), the Isle of Man (1308 and 006329F), the Bailiwick of Guernsey and Alderney | RNLI (Sales) Ltd | RNLI Shop (registration number 2202240 and RNLI College Ltd (registration number 7705470) both companies registered in England and Wales at West Quay Road, Poole, BH15 1HZ. Images and copyright © RNLI 2021.
We save lives by providing a 24-hour lifeboat search and rescue service, seasonal lifeguards, water safety education and initiatives and flood rescue response.

1866 - The First Station

The first station was established in Looe in 1866, following the loss of several lives when local boatmen went to the assistance of a fishing vessel. Sadly their boat capsized in the breakers on returning ashore. At that time, there was a great demand for a lifeboat due to the large number of vessels using the harbour. So on 28 December 1866, after £420 was raised from families in Oxfordshire, a 32 foot ten oared lifeboat with a carriage was ‘commissioned’ on condition that the Looe townspeople provided a boathouse for £220 and maintained it for £35 per annum. The new boat was named The Oxfordshire, at the request of the late Sir John Pollard Willoughby and she remained on station until 1885 having launched 14 times and saved 14 lives. The Oxfordshire was succeeded by Boys Own No. 1, a gift of the readers of Boys Own Paper, who raised £1,200, split between two lifeboats, one for Poole and one for Looe. The boat was launched on seven occasions and saved 37 lives

1902 - The Ryder

In May 1902 a new boat arrived, funded by a legacy from the late William Ryder of Brixton, London. Similar in design to Boys Own No. 1 and built at a cost of £750 plus £85 delivery, the boat was named Ryder by Lady Trelawney. During the following years the Ryder distinguished herself in many services. In 1915 many of the crew had gone to war and five new volunteers were recruited. In 1928 the Ryder was despatched to assist the Paris, a French liner with 1,500 people on board, bound for Plymouth which had run aground on the Eddystone Rocks. The Plymouth lifeboat was out of action so the Ryder launched and made all possible speed to the Eddystone, but later a message came through that the Paris had got off on a rising tide with little damage. This was the last service performed by the Ryder before, much to the consternation of local people, the Looe lifeboat station closed in July 1930. The Ryder carried out 12 launches and saved 37 lives. It is worth noting that all the lifeboats of this period were powered by the crew, rowing. Today the restored Ryder is moored in Polperro and in the summer, volunteer’s row round the headland to Looe and join in many of the events in Looe.

1991 - Relief Boat

In 1991 the RNLI resolved that, subject to the provision of suitable shore facilities, a summer only D Class lifeboat would be allocated to Looe for one season’s operational evaluation. A relief lifeboat was then stationed here until the summer of 1994, when Spirit of the ROAC took up station in a temporary lifeboat house provided generously by East Looe Town Trust. In 1998 the lifeboat was moved to the lifeboat house at Middleton’s corner on East Looe Quay.

2002 - New Station

In 2002 it was agreed that an Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat would be co-located at Looe and a new lifeboat station would be built on the site of the old Albatross warehouse. Its construction commenced in the autumn of that year. As well as housing the station’s two lifeboats, the building would provide facilities for the crew and a purpose build RNLI souvenir shop. The first floor of the building was designed to provide a training room, office facilities and an observation point from which safety of the lifeboats could be monitored. The new purpose built station was opened 2003 and houses two inshore lifeboats. The thriving souvenir shop is one of the busiest in the South West and raises substantial funds which have helped save many lives at sea. Since it opened, there have been over 400 shouts and 290 people rescued.

2010 - Ollie Naismith

Following the tragic death of a popular local teenager Ollie Naismith in a road traffic accident in 2009, Ollie’s parents Maxine and John Naismith spearheaded a fundraising campaign to raise sufficient funds for a new D Class lifeboat. Funding of over £35,000 was raised and the new lifeboat named Ollie Naismith brought into service in 2010. Our new D Class, Ollie Naismith II will be on service late 2022 following an amazingly successful fund raising year that smashed the £78,000 target price of the boat.

2017 - Sheila and Dennis Tongue II

In 2017 the Sheila and Dennis Tongue II was brought into service, funded by a generous legacy from the late Sheila and Dennis Tongue. It was in their retirement years that they began to appreciate the value of the RNLI, not just for its crucial work in saving lives, but as an integral part of the life of a coastal town. They became regular visitors to the RNLI shop for Christmas cards, tea towels and calendars and as they had no children, the decision to leave a substantial legacy to the RNLI was partly as a ’thank you’ for the happy days they had spent in and around Exmouth It was also in recognition of the vital work of the RNLI. Since the re-establishment of a Lifeboat station in 1992, various Atlantic and D- Class inshore lifeboats on station have launched 353 times, rescuing 283 people and saving 54 lives.


Over the stations history one RNLI gallantry medal has been awarded, a silver medal which was given to William Jennings, a Coastguard, for a rescue he carried out from shore in 1838. The French government also awarded a gold medal, 2nd Class to Coxswain Edward Tomes and a silver medal, 2nd Class, to each of the crew of the Boys Own No. 1 when she rescued the crew of the French barque Gypsy in 1901, when she lost her bearings and having mistaken the lights of Downderry for Plymouth, ran aground on the rocks. The French captain attempted to keep the boat afloat by pumping out, but eventually gave the command to abandon ship and 14 of the crew were taken into the lifeboat which had been standing off. Also saved were 3 kittens. The lifeboat eventually returned to Looe at 1.30 am. By morning Gypsy was a total wreck.

Water Safety

Looe RNLI are now are part of a national RNLI safety initiative known as Water Safety. It is designed to prevent various types of incidents both ashore and at sea, prevention being significantly better than ‘cure’. Locally, this is a joint initiative between the Looe Water Safety team, HM Coastguard and RNLI lifeguards.

A History of Looe Lifeboat Station - Established 1866