Saving Life at Sea

‘Valour and virtue have not perished in the British race’, said Winston Churchill, describing the long record of the national life-boat service.

A ship caught in a storm; three people in a lifeboat in the foreground. Aquatint, ca. 1850. Wellcome Collection.

Man’s readiness to risk his own life by putting to sea to rescue others in danger is one of the most attractive of human characteristics. Examples of it have been recorded in different centuries and continents, and at different levels of civilization. In 1639, for instance, a Dutch whaler was wrecked off the coast of Spitsbergen and the crew sent up distress signals. Three boats immediately put out to the rescue and the lives of nineteen men were saved. The local inhabitants were reported to have bathed the feet of the shipwrecked men in warm brine and to have given them meat and drink and beds. In the same century, a French ship ran aground off the coast of Martinique and the account of the wreck states that the ‘savages’ of Martinique put out in canoes and rescued the crew.

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