The charity has seen funding fall while demand for its services continues to rise.
The RNLI has launched a major appeal for donations as it faces a “perfect storm” of increased demand and falling income.
Fundraisers at the charity are aiming to raise £1.8 million and recruit 12,000 new supporters through the appeal, which it is hoped will secure the RNLI’s long-term sustainability.
In 2018, the RNLI had a £6.3m shortfall in funds. Its legacy income fell for the first time in five years, by £8.5m, while investments dropped by around £10m and spending increased by £4.5m.
Earlier this year, the charity was forced to hit back after reports in the Daily Mail and The Times criticised its spending on international projects.
The RNLI said just 2% of its budget was spent overseas, on initiatives where the expertise of RNLI staff can help save lives in places with high rates of drowning.
Around the UK, meanwhile, the charity’s volunteer lifeboat crews launched 8,964 times and helped 9,412 people last year, while its lifeguards responded to 19,449 incidents and helped 32,207 people.
On average the RNLI’s lifeboats around the UK and Ireland have launched over 8,000 times each year of the last decade. In the 1990s they averaged 6,000 launches a year, while in the 1970s it was less than 3,000.
The charity currently operates 238 lifeboat stations, with 431 lifeboats and 5,500 volunteer crew members, plus 1,500 lifeguards patrolling over 240 UK beaches. The new campaign, dubbed The Perfect Storm, will raise money to cover the ongoing work needed to maintain and upgrade lifeboats, stations, kit and training across the UK.
Jayne George, RNLI director of fundraising, said: “The RNLI is facing some big challenges – we’re busier than ever, people are still drowning, but our income is down – so we’re facing our own perfect storm, and we are appealing to our supporters and the public to give what they can to help us.
“We want to thank our loyal supporters – without them we would not be providing the world-class lifesaving service we are renowned for today. This campaign is about thanking them and re-engaging with them, but also trying to attract new supporters to provide ongoing, longer-term support for the RNLI. We need to invest in fundraising in order to keep with the pace of demand and ensure the future capability of our fleet and lifesavers.
“This appeal is one part of a range of activity we’re undertaking to get back to living within our means, including looking closely at our work to see where we can make efficiencies and savings. While we’re confident we can make savings, we’re also re-focusing our efforts on fundraising.”