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Lifeboat training

​Turning our volunteers into lifesavers

Our crews are prepared to drop everything and risk their lives at a moment’s notice.

Their lifesaving work is essential, often difficult and sometimes dangerous. And with only one in ten volunteers joining the RNLI from a professional maritime occupation, training is especially important.

That’s why we provide our crew members with first-class training, equipment, guidance and support.

Mudeford Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat Mudeford Servant B-806 during a casualty care training exercise.

​Our crews train together every week, at sea and onshore.

Their weekly exercises focus on teamwork, competence and safe procedures. And their training can include anything from boat handling, search and rescue and navigation to radar training, radio communications and casualty care.

They also practice rescue scenarios involving other emergency services, such as the UK or Irish Coastguard services.

Every crew member undergoes a structured training programme, known as competence-based training (CoBT). CoBT covers an agreed range of skills necessary to complete particular tasks.

Crews also undertake operational training, designed to help them meet their required fitness standards, which is mostly delivered at lifeboat stations by experienced crew members and visiting Mobile Training Units.

Training is an ongoing process for crew members – it’s not that kind of job where you ever know it all!

Trainee crew

Every trainee crew member works through a crew development plan.

In their first few months at a station, they learn about:

  • the roles and responsibilities of people at the station
  • how to use and look after their personal protective equipment
  • the layout and equipment on their station’s lifeboat
  • tying a range of knots and how to work with ropes safely.

After 6 months of regular training and getting to know and work with the crew, new volunteers attend the Trainee Crew course at the RNLI College in Poole.

Following their 12 month probationary period and assessments, trainees become fully fledged crew members. Their training continues at the station with Mobile Training Units and at the college.

A Sea Survival course at the RNLI college in Poole.

RNLI College is the home of crew training.

Around 1,243 lifeboat crew members take part in one or more of over 40 different courses on offer at the college. 

Crew train using our first class facilities, which include well-equipped training rooms, a resources centre and an Integrated Sea Survival Centre, featuring live-engine workshops, a wave tank, fire simulator and lifeboat bridge simulator.

Our state-of-the-art Integrated Sea Survival Centre gives crew members a chance to gain practical experience in sea safety and survival techniques. 

In the wave pool, crews can experience conditions such as complete darkness, thunder, lightning, and helicopter recovery. Watch sea survival training in action.

Training and development activities include taught workshops and courses, learner-centred activities and distance-learning materials, which support crew members' competence-based training (CoBT).

When not in use by crew, the RNLI College uses its spare capacity to offer training to the public and other organisations.

Trainee crew

After 6 months of regular training and getting to know and work with the crew, trainees head to the college for the Trainee Crew course.

The Trainee Crew course teaches them:

  • their responsibilities as a crew member
  • essential personal survival and firefighting techniques
  • an understanding of the equipment they'll need to use
  • generic seamanship skills
  • inshore and/or all-weather lifeboat-specific skills.

Theoretical and practical sessions help build the crews' confidence and awareness of the lifeboat's equipment and capabilities when at sea.

During practical sessions, crew use training lifeboats and casualty vessels, the sea survival pool, fire simulator and flare ground.

We want our training to cause as little disruption as possible to the jobs and family commitments of our crews. That's why we provide training around the coast by mobile training unit (MTU) trainers.

The MTU trainers spend all but a few weeks of the year on the road delivering vital courses and training to our crews. The courses can be delivered during the day and in the evening to suit the crews’ requirements.

Courses include:

  • Radar and Electronic Navigation Aids
  • Search and Rescue
  • Boathandling and Seamanship
  • Flood Water Rescue Boat Operators
  • Search and Rescue Radio Operators Certificate
  • Long Range Certificate
  • Casualty Care for Lifeboat Crews and Casualty Care for Lifeguards.


The Lloyd's Register Foundation is a long-term supporter of crew training and has pledged to fund a further five years of sea survival training from January 2011 to December 2015, bringing its total support to just over £1.5M.

The Lloyd's Register Foundation funds education, training and research programmes in transportation, science, engineering, technology and the safety of life worldwide for the benefit of all.