How a Ramsgate rescue prompted the design of the RNLI flag

The flag was designed in 1884 Image RNLI

The RNLI flag was designed in 1884 – and was prompted by a rescue in Ramsgate.

Leonora Preston designed the flag after her brother was saved by Ramsgate lifeboat volunteers.

Adorning the side of every lifeboat and flying at every lifeboat station, the RNLI flag has been the symbol of saving lives at sea for more than a century.

The design of the flag, quite fittingly, is linked with the rescue which took place in 1882 when Ramsgate lifeboat Bradford went to the aid of a vessel that was ashore on the Goodwin Sands.

The crew rescued nine people from the wreckage, one of whom was Robert A.B Preston. After the rescue, Robert took a great and lifelong interest in lifeboats and the work of the RNLI, donating a lifeboat to the Institution and going on to the Committee of Management.

The design

The first RNLI flag, designed by Leonora, included the Tudor crown worn by King George Vl

She used the St George’s cross as the basis for the flag, adding a dark blue bordering and red RNLI lettering in each of the four white cantons.

Finally, in the centre of the flag, she placed the Tudor crown and a foul anchor, signifying the charity’s dedication to the sea and its Royal Charter.

In 1908, the RNLI formally adopted the flag and flew it proudly from all lifeboat stations.

Image RNLI

In 1953, after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the RNLI changed the crown in the centre of the flag from the Tudor style, as worn by King George VI, to the St Edward’s crown worn by the newly appointed monarch.

The Ramsgate station was established in 1802, the first lifeboat being built by Greathead for the Trustees of Ramsgate Harbour. The station lapsed for some time before 1824 until 1851, when the Harbour Trustees purchased a lifeboat built by Beeching of Great Yarmouth. The Institution controlled the station jointly with the Board of Trade from 1865 until 1922, when it took over full responsibility.

Find more on the history of Ramsgate Lifeboat Station here