A rescue lifeboat is a boat rescue craft which is used to attend a vessel in distress, or its survivors, to rescue crewmen and passengers. It can be hand pulled, sail powered or powered by an engine. Lifeboats may be rigid, inflatable or rigid-inflatable combination hulled vessels.
The United States Life Saving Service (USLSS) was established in 1848. This was a United States government agency that grew out of private and local humanitarian efforts to save the lives of shipwrecked mariners and passengers. In 1915 the USLSS merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the United States Coast Guard (USCG).
In 1899 the Lake Shore Engine Company, at the behest of the Marquette Life Saving Station, fitted a two-cylinder 12 hp (9 kW) engine to a 34-foot (10 m) lifeboat on Lake Superior, Michigan. Its operation marked the introduction of the term motor life boat (MLB). By 1909 44 boats had been fitted with engines whose power had increased to 40 hp (30 kW).
The sailors of the MLBs are called "surfmen", after the name given to the volunteers of the original USLSS. The main school for training USCG surfmen is the National Motor Lifeboat School (NMLBS) located at the Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River, which is also the boundary separating Washington State from Oregon State. The sand bars which form at the entrance are treacherous and provide a tough training environment for surf lifesavers.