They’re ordinary people doing extraordinary things. RNLI volunteers have been braving treacherous seas and risking their lives to save ours for 200 years now.

In Sussex, they’re artists, anaesthetists, law professors who prepare themselves to drop everything to attend incidents – sometimes several times a day or night.

“I've been to sea in dark storms, towed stricken vessels, pulled drowning people out from treacherous waves and even dangled from a helicopter winch over the sea,” board game designer Mat Humphrey who volunteers at Brighton Lifeboat Station, previously said.

“You never know what you are going to get called out to but we are always prepared to do the best we can in every situation to achieve our ultimate aim of saving lives at sea.”

The RNLI is celebrating its anniversary today. Since it was formed on March 4, 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved 146,277 lives across the country.

READ MORE: RNLI colourises historic photos for 200th year celebrations

Over the last 200 years, the charity has gone from oar-powered vessels and cork lifejackets to today’s technology-packed lifeboats.

One of its very first rescues was in Brighton. On June 15, 1824, volunteers saved three people during an incident involving a pleasure boat.

Brighton Lifeboat Station was set up the same year – one of the RNLI’s first-ever stations.

Sussex volunteers played a key role in World War 2. Between 1939 and 1945, Eastbourne’s crews alone saved 42 lives. Lifeboats from Shoreham and Newhaven took part in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk.

Malcolm Harvey joined the first-ever crew at Brighton Marina lifeboat station just after it was built in 1978.

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He became Brighton RNLI’s longest-serving volunteer and retired after 46 years of service in 2022.

After retiring, he remembered: “Things were pretty different [in 1978], while the lifeboat station building was being completed we kept our kits first in a horsebox then in a two-wheel caravan which had been donated – we never could get the smell of horses out of our kit!

The Argus: “There were five suits between us and we ranged from 5ft 7 to more than 6ft tall so it led to some pretty funny-looking crew members.”

During his time on the crew Malcolm received recognition from the RNLI for saving 78 lives. One of his final shouts was saving a family of four plus a spaniel, who had become cut off by the tide in Saltdean.

Malcolm said: “There aren’t many people out there who can say someone is alive because of a direct result of your actions.

“We have our emergency services but I think life boating comes up pretty high on the list of lifesavers. I’ll always be proud of my time with the RNLI.”

Volunteering with the RNLI sometimes even runs in the blood. Sarah Huntley joined the Brighton team last year, after her sister Emily Summerfield, a mum-of-two, signed up in 2019.

The Argus: Having grown up around a boathouse – their dad was a volunteer with Eastbourne RNLI for 20 years – “it was a question of when, not if, we’d join,” said Emily.

“Dad was on the crew from when I was about ten – it was totally normal for his pager to go off in the middle of the night and he would go off to help save lives at sea. We thought it was all really exciting. That was what inspired me to join.”

A service of thanksgiving to mark the RNLI’s anniversary will take place at Westminster Abbey in London today, attended by representatives from RNLI lifesaving communities across the UK and Ireland.

Among them is Brighton lifeboat operations manager Roger Cohen MBE, who will be reading the RNLI pledge during the ceremony.

He said: “We hope our celebrations will inspire the lifesavers of the future to make sure the RNLI is here to save lives for many years to come.”