The lifeboat was ordered direct from Henry Greathead at a July exhibition on Whitby quayside and delivered to the town on October 7th, 1802.
Greathead described his invention as unsubmergable due to the fact 7 hundredweight of cork was fitted externally as a fender beneath the gunnels and internally from the thwarts to the deck. During a refit around 1823, air boxes were to replace the cork with the addition of eight relieving tubes for draining away excess water. This was a year prior to the “Royal National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck” being formed. This title later being renamed Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).
On Christmas Day 1836, William Guy, the Lifeboat Bowman was called from the Methodist Chapel to take his place alongside 21 other volunteers to man the boat to assist the brig ‘Caroline’. Tremendous seas and gale force winds caused much damage to the seaside properties yet the crewmen managed to launch the boat in the heavy breakers. It was during this failed rescue attempt that William Guy was washed overboard and drowned. The only person ever to lose his life from the Zetland Lifeboat. The 'Friends of the Zetland Lifeboat' commissioned a burial stone to mark the spot where William Guy resides in St. Peters Churchyard together with a brass plaque installed inside the church. The plaque was unveiled by The 4th Marquess of Zetland who's family were so instrumental in bringing the first lifeboat to Redcar and In 1838 the title of 1st Earl of Zetland was bestowed upon the local landowner and this was to influence the local people to give the previously unnamed lifeboat, the name Zetland, The name taken from Shetland with which the family had such strong connections.
After some years associated with the Tees Bay Lifeboat and Shipwreck Society it was to be in 1858 that the RNLI took responsibility for the Zetland together with lifeboats at Middlesbrough and Saltburn. The Zetland continued to give good service until 6 years later (1864) when she was considered by the RNLI to be unfit for service, She was almost immediately replaced by the RNLI boat Crossley.
Having left service she was repaired with the costs been borne by the Zetland family and returned to the people of Redcar. Her movements were not documented but it was thought that she was used occasionally for fishing etc., before being laid up and unused. Her plight was recognised and with her (Granville Terrace) boathouse under threat of demolition she was offered safekeeping on a Marske farm owned by the 'Zetlands'
In 1877 Redcar was gifted a private lifeboat by the United Order of the Free Gardeners who were a charitable body with lodges in the Cleveland area. They were to provide not only financial assistance but a lifeboat, a purpose built boathouse with crew accommodation and the very latest in lifesaving equipment available.
The lifeboat affectionately known as 'Emma' was in recognition of Mrs. Emma Dawson of Weston Hall, Otley the philanthropist who gave so much to the Redcar people. It was the vacant 'Emma' boathouse that was to offer a new home to the Zetland in 1907. Now a Grade 2 listed building and museum she continues to house not only the Zetland which is undeniably the oldest surviving lifeboat in the world, but numerous artefacts relating to Redcar's lifeboats, History and her maritime heritage.
The Zetland Lifeboat Museum is run and maintained by a group of dedicated volunteers who receive no external funding and rely solely upon visitor donations to keep this very popular seaside attraction freely open to the public.
"Your contributions are our lifeline"
The National Historical Ships Register lists over 1000 historical vessels.
“The National Historic Fleet” is a sub-group of some 200 vessels, These are considered to be the most important and of “pre-eminent National or Regional significance”... Of these 200 vessels only six are older than the Zetland. She shares her listing alongside such vessels as the “Mary Rose”, “HMS Victory”, “The Warrior”, “HMS Trincomalee” and the “Cutty Sark”
As a point of interest the Zetland was saving lives before the Battle of Trafalgar and had saved almost 500 lives by the time the “Cutty Sark” was built 67 years later.