With the IMRF’s centenary year (2024) beginning to appear over the horizon, one of our Trustees, James Vaughan (RNLI) has been looking into where it all started …


96 years young…Happy Birthday to the International Maritime Rescue Federation


The RNLI’s international work is often perceived to be a recent expansion, but we have been working to support lifesaving around the world for many decades.

n fact, 96 years ago this July, as part of the its centenary celebrations, the RNLI gathered lifeboat organisations around the world for the first ‘International Lifeboat Conference’ with the aim of sharing knowledge and ideas so that everyone could benefit.

The themes at that event, covered "practically every question of technical interest, from the construction of lifeboats and lifeboat engines to the latest mechanical devices, such as tractors and line throwing guns."

In fact, these themes were not entirely dissimilar from those discussed the most recent International Maritime Rescue Federation World Maritime Rescue Congress held in Vancouver in 2019 – although maybe ‘line throwing guns’ is something that is less important these days.

Nine countries were represented at that first meeting in 1924, including many close neighbours like the Netherlands(where KNRM were also celebrating their first hundred years of search and rescue), Denmark, France, Spain and Sweden, as well as countries from much further afield, including the USA and Japan

Count Kozo Yoshi, a director of the Japanese League of Nations Union, put forward a motion proposing that that a new international lifeboat organisation should be established and should be registered with the League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations) to promote cooperation between the world’s existing lifeboat services. 

He suggested that its members should assist in the establishment of new lifeboat services in areas of the world where no such services existed.

Sound familiar….? This is still very much at the heart of the IMRF’s  vision today and is actively promoted by many IMRF member organisations.

 Count Yoshi proposed that, "in order to improve the saving of life at sea, an international association be formed, like the Red Cross with all lifeboat services as members."

From this, the organisation then known as the International Lifeboat Conference was born. 

In 1991 it changed its name to  the International Lifeboat Federation, before finally becoming the International Maritime Rescue Federation in 2006.  more loosely given that the membership includes both voluntary and governmental bodies but the common bond between members today is to see improved capability in maritime SAR worldwide.

in 1985, some 60 years since Count Kozo Yoshi made that first proposal, the organisation was granted non-governmental consultative status with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), where it remains the only organisation representing the specific interests of the global maritime SAR community.

Today, the IMRF has members in over 50 countries, including charities, government agencies, voluntary organisations, public and private bodies, as well as suppliers of SAR services, products and equipment.  

What they all share is a passionate commitment to saving lives, by improving global maritime SAR capability and effectiveness.

So a very happy 96th birthday IMRF!


If you want to know more, visit:. https://www.international-maritime-rescue.org/the-history-of-the-imrf