Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a boat that goes to help people who have had an accident at sea

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The compound noun lifeboat was first used in the late 18th century to refer to a boat launched from shore to rescue people in trouble at sea. The meaning of a small boat kept on a ship for emergencies is slightly later, occurring first in the early 19th century.


The founder of the RNLI, Sir William Hillary, was born 250 years ago this month. Moved by the horrible shipwrecks he saw occurring off the coast of the Isle of Man, he wrote an appeal to the nation to create an institution that would help rescue those in trouble at sea. The National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was founded in 1824, becoming the RNLI on receiving a royal charter in 1860. The organization is funded mainly by legacies and donations, and most members of its lifeboat crews are volunteers. The organization also provides equipment and training for lifeguards on hundreds of beaches, as well as flood rescue teams that operate both at home and abroad. The term lifeboat was first recorded in the late 18th century. Initially written as two words it was then hyphenated for a long time, and these days is generally written as a single word; a process that happens with many compounds.


Good literature is a lifeboat! Every time you feel you are sinking, jump on it!
(Mehmet Murat ildan)

The life-boat can brave storms in which a coast-guard boat or fisher boat could not venture to put out.
(From ‘All the year round’, a magazine edited by Charles Dickens)

Related words

lifebelt, lifebuoy, lifeguard, lifejacket, life raft

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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