Lifesaving Sport

The Royal Life Saving Society UK is the National Governing Body for pool-based Lifesaving Sport - a sport recognised by the International Olympic Committee and the Commonwealth Games Federation. Lifesaving Sport is the only sport whose skills are first learned for humanitarian purposes.

As showcased in our new promotional video, Lifesaving Sport is a competitive and dynamic international sport, with a variety of fun and challenging activities that take place in and out of the water at swimming pools and the beach. It is also an important vehicle to engage young people in lifesaving and support drowning prevention. 

Lifesaving competition is a mandate embedded in the Lifesaving Society’s founding Aims and Objects. In fact, William Henry – the founder of the Royal Lifesaving Society – was a champion swimmer and one of the organizers of the aquatic events in London’s 1908 Olympic Games. 

3 January 1891

The Royal Life Saving Society was founded at a meeting on 3 January 1891 in Anderton's Hotel London of 60 persons interested in everything pertaining to swimming. The nucleus of the world-wide organisation that was to become the Royal Life Saving was formed. The new Society was called the Swimmers Life Saving Society.

The main architects of the formation of the new Society were William Henry and Archibald Sinclair. William Henry was one of Britain’s finest swimmers of his day and in 1883 was runner-up in the English 500 yards Swimming Championship. In 1888 he was English Saltwater Champion. In 1890 he won the English Long-Distance Swimming Championships. William Henry was appointed the first Honorary Secretary of the Swimmers Life Saving Society. The year after it was formed the organisation changed their name to "The Life Saving Society". The initial aim of the Society was to raise swimming above the level of competitive sport but many clubs at that time imagined that the holding of races was sufficient to prepare rescuers. Many speed swimmers found that their skills were of little use in lifesaving. The first lifesaving courses were then introduced and a handbook of techniques produced. During the first year of the Society existence a national lifesaving competition was held with 24 teams competing. Lever Brothers sponsored a shield and Medals for the event.


In 1896 William Henry visited Germany and competed in the European Swimming Championships at which he won gold in the 100m event. He went on to win the lifesaving event at the World Championships in Paris in 1900.

In years following its formation the Lifesaving Society established lifesaving organisations and clubs in Australia (1894) Canada (1908), New Zealand (1910) and South Africa (1911).


In 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, the Lifesaving Society organised its first International Gala at the West India Dock in the presence of the Duke & Duchess of York. Competitors participated from United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Germany Sweden and France. Events included rescue/release drills, carrying a casualty in water and the demonstration of the release from a person violently struggling in water. This 1897 Gala was the first time the Lifesaving Society projected itself and established a pattern for future events. In 1900 an International Congress on Drowning was held in Paris and William Henry participated in the lifesaving competition that accompanied the event. He won the gold medal and received a bronze statue to mark his achievement. 

As more Society Branches were established throughout the Empire (Commonwealth) over subsequent years so more national lifesaving Championships were commenced.


In 1902 King Edward VII was crowned and in 1904 became Patron of the Life Saving Society. A special lifesaving competition was held that year at Highgate Ponds in London to mark the Coronation. Competitors participated from "the colonies", USA, France Belgium, Sweden, and the UK before 30,000 spectators. The Society has had continuous Royal Patronage since 1904 with HM The Queen as the current Patron. HRH Prince Michael of Kent GCVO is the Society's current active Commonwealth President a role he has held for over 30 years.

9th July 1903

On 9th July 1903, The King and Queen attended at Lifesaving Gala in London. Special Gold Medals were struck the mark this visit and one of these Medals is still displayed in the Society's Commonwealth Headquarters.


In 1904 King Edward VII gave permission for the Society to use the title " Royal " and the present name of " The Royal Life Saving Society " was established.


The 1988 Lifesaving World Championships were held between 22-27 March 1988 at the Gold Coast in Australia. These were the first Lifesaving World Championships to include both pool and ocean events with the pool events being conducted at the Southport Olympic Pool in Southport and the ocean events being conducted at Main Beach, Southport and Greenmount Beach, Coolangatta. As well as being the first championships to include both pool and ocean lifesaving events, these were the first championships to conduct contests for both Interclub and International teams. Competitors representing teams from 10 countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and the United States took part.


Today, Lifesaving Sport is a worldwide movement with Commonwealth and World Lifesaving Championships attracting thousands of participants from some 40 nations. At home, participation in RLSS UK National Championships continues to grow as does participation in lifesaving clubs across the country.

Lifesaving Sport is Proud to be the only sport with humanitarian origins.