Everybody that has visited Margate will have seen the statue of the lifeboatman looking out to sea at the Nayland Rock, and perhaps read the inscription on it about the tragic capsize of the "FRIEND TO ALL NATIONS' in December 1897, with the loss of 9 lives. But the story of the Margate Surfboats goes back much farther than that.
It was in April,1850, 'that the Dublin steamer "ROYAL ADELAIDE" was wrecked on the Tongue Sand off Margate with the loss of all 250 onboard. This tragedy made the Margate boatmen determined that they would purchase for themselves a lifeboat. This Surfboat, as it was known, was run as a co-operative with each boatman paying his share into a pool and receiving a share of salvage money from vessels saved, the saving of life was of course done for free. By this method the boat was maintained and the boatmen supplemented their often meagre incomes.
The first of the Surfboats "FRIEND OF ALL NATIONS" was put on station in November 1857, and was soon busy in the crowded waters of the Thames Estuary. In January 1866, she capsized going to the aid of a vessel in distress and her crew were lucky to be saved after 85 minutes in the freezing water. She was kept busy up until the Great Storm of November 1877, when she was wrecked after saying the lives of 38 men from 6 vessels. She was replaced by another Surfboat, her name just slightly changed to "FRIEND TO ALL NATIONS". She was put on, station in July 1878, and was engaged in many rescues off Margate and down in the English Channel.
One of her most noted services was off the Nayland Rock in December 1890, when the stern half of the tankship "VILLE DE CALAIS", under tow for repairs in London following an explosion which had broken her in two, sank in heavy seas during a blizzard. She saved 6 men in the most arduous conditions. Many other services were carried out until the fatal capsize of 1897 after which she was repaired and put back into service. She was lost in December, 1898, while under tow to a vessel reported in distress., Although she was recovered off Suffolk she never returned to Margate as a new "FRIEND TO ALL NATIONS" was put on station in September 1899. This, like her two predecessors, was an open rowing and sailing boat and her crew were completely open to the elements. In 1906, a crewman died in the boat as a result of exposure, a hazard routinely faced by the men.
One of her most notable services was to the sailing ship "MARECHAL SUCHET", aground off Margate, when she saved 26 people. In 1922 the boat was motorised following public donations, thus becoming the first motor lifeboat at Margate. She was requisitioned for service in World War Two and eventually sank off Ostend in 1957 when she was a houseboat. During their many years of voluntary service, the Margate Surfboats rescued countless vessels as well as saving over 500 lives.