The R.N.L.I. station was established at Portrush in 1860 with a lifeboat called Zelinda which had sails and oars and was crewed by six men. The vessel was capable of righting itself within five seconds of being capsized; then emptying itself only half a minute after being swamped. Zelinda cost £180, which included a transportation carriage, and it was kept in a boathouse at Kerr Street, beyond the south pier of the harbour and overlooking the Mill Strand. The Zelinda was renamed Laura in honour of the Countess of Antrim and was replaced by the John Whitaker in 1876. This lifeboat served for 13 years and then was replaced by the Robert and Agnes Blair in 1889. In 1892, a slipway for this new lifeboat was constructed near Portandhu, followed by the boathouse at Lansdowne in 1900.
The Robert and Agnes Blair, which had arrived in 1889, suffered tragedy on its first service when three crew were lost attempting a rescue. – an event still referred to as the “Portrush Lifeboat Disaster”. In 1902, a new lifeboat called the Hopwood arrived. This vessel carried a crew of 15 and was to be the last Portrush Lifeboat reliant on sails and oars. The Hopwood saved 23 lives and was in service until the T.B.B.H. arrived in 1924.
The T.B.B.H. was also the last lifeboat to use the Lansdowne boathouse as the rocky shore here made it difficult to launch. It was moored in the main harbour until the current R.N.L.I. boathouse was opened in 1928.
The current Boathouse in Kerr Street was opened by the Duchess Of Abercorn in August 1928. The lifeboat at that time was the motorised T.B.B.H. (named after the surnames of the English donors Thornton, Bartlett, Broustead and Hooper) and it would serve throughout world war ii. The T.B.B.H. was also the first Portrush lifeboat to have essential equipment such as a searchlight and a line-throwing gun.
In total, ten lives were saved during the war years. On occasion, the T.B.B.H. would spend long hours searching the sea for lost ships, life rafts, planes or pilots, with no success. However, more commonly, she was able to escort damaged ships, come to the aid of fishing boats and merchant vessels or provide essential support to the Royal Navy.
T.B.B.H. was replaced by the Lady Scott in July 1949. She and her crew performed many outstanding rescues, saving 70 lives until she was decommissioned in 1981. The most daring occurred in 1960 when she joined forces with the Frigate H.M.S. Leopard and a Royal Navy Whirlwind Helicopter to rescue 29 crew stranded on the helpless Argo Delos. The Greek cargo ship had run aground in horrendous sea conditions off Malin Head. The Lady Scott was battered against the side of the larger ship during the operation and managed to bring ashore 14 of the men before the helicopter lifted the remaining 15 to safety. Two of the crew Of Lady Scott were awarded R.N.L.I. medals for their courage, which were presented by the Duchess Of Kent.