Following a surprise election campaign pledge to reintroduce National Service for 18 years olds, the RNLI says it would need to "consider carefully what any involvement in a scheme which mandated volunteering might look like"

UK National Service was abolished in 1960, though periods of deferred service still had to be completed until 1963.

Now, as part of its General Election campaign pledge, the Conservative Party is proposing making it mandatory for 18-year-olds.

Two options for UK National Service are being put forward: military training or community volunteering where participants would spend one weekend a month – 25 days over a 12-month period – volunteering with organisations such as the RNLI, the NHS, fire and ambulance service.

The RNLI relies predominantly on volunteers to run its lifesaving service.

RNLI crew undergoing training

Regular training is required for the volunteer RNLI crew. Credit: Graham Snook/YM

Currently, over 5,700 lifeboat crew, over 4,000 shore crew and 119 lifeguards freely give up their time to keep people safe around the UK coastline and at sea.

Lifeboat crews and station volunteers need to be able to respond immediately to any emergency at sea.

Crews also train together every week, at sea and ashore, covering everything from boat handling, search and rescue, navigation, radio communication and casualty care.

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Asked to comment on the UK National Service proposal, the RNLI’s chief executive, Mark Dowie said while the charity supports volunteering initiatives, mandated volunteering would need careful consideration.

“We are supportive of initiatives that encourage more young people to consider volunteering for the RNLI and other charities but would need to consider carefully what any involvement in a scheme which mandated volunteering might look like, and it would take some time for us to work through the detail,” he said.

Dowie said over the last 200 years, the RNLI knew the value of young people, who “have great amounts of energy and commitment to volunteer.”

“Hundreds of young people are currently playing a part in our lifesaving mission, as volunteer crew on our lifeboats, lifeguards on busy beaches and fundraisers. We commemorate our 200th anniversary this year and one of our key objectives is to inspire a future generation of lifesavers,” said Dowie.

Three men who volunteer for the rNLI in a rib

In 2002, the RNLI set up the first lifeboat service on the River Thames. Tower is one of the busiest stations in the UK

2024 marks the 200th anniversary of the RNLI, which was formed on 4 March 1924.

Initially called The Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, the name was changed to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution  – or RNLI for short – in 1854.

RNLI volunteers have saved 146,277 lives over two centuries of lifesaving work.