Formby beach is the location of the very first lifeboat station in the UK. Established in 1776 by William Hutchinson, Dock Master for the Liverpool Common Council.. The first boat specialized as a lifeboat was tested on the River Tyne on January 29, 1790. William Wouldhave and Lionel Lukin both claimed to be the inventor of the first lifeboat. One example of an early lifeboat was the Landguard Fort Lifeboat of 1821, designed by Richard Hall Gower.
In U.S. waters, rescue-at-sea is part of the duties of the United States Coast Guard, which employs its multipurpose ships and aircraft in this role.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (or RNLI) maintains lifeboats around the coasts of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, manned by unpaid volunteers with equipment funded through voluntary donation - web-site at www.rnli.org.uk Most Scandinavian countries also have volunteer lifeboat societies. The local branch of a society generally schedules practices, maintains a lifeboat and shed, and is contacted by commercial marine radio operators when a rescue is needed.
In Australasia, surf lifesaving clubs operate inflatable rescue boats (IRB) for in-shore rescues of swimmers and surfers. These boats are best typified by the rubber Zodiac and are powered by an outboard motor. The rescue personnel wear wet suits.
The Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat (RIB) is now seen as the best type of craft for in-shore rescues as they are less likely to be tipped over by the wind or breakers. Specially designed jet rescue boats have also been used successfully. Unlike ordinary pleasure craft, these small to medium sized rescue craft often have very low freeboard so that victims can be taken aboard without lifting. This means that the boats are designed to operate with water inside the boat hull and rely on flotation tanks rather than hull displacement to stay afloat and upright.
The Dutch lifeboat association (KNRM) has put many efforts in developing jet-driven RIB lifeboats. This has resulted in 3 classes. The largest is the "Arie Visser-class: length 18,80 m, twin jet, 2 x 1000 hp, max. speed 35 kts, capacity 120 persons.
Lifeboats are also operated inland at specific events, organisations such as the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS UK) provide coverage of rivers, lakes and such like.