Death from shipwreck was a tragic reality of life in the early 19th century. Exiled on the Isle of Man, Sir William Hillary, handsome, charismatic and adventurous, decided to atone for his chequered past and do something to prevent it. His journey from Regency rake to national hero led him to leave his slave-owning family in Liverpool, travel abroad, mingle with royalty, marry an heiress and, during the Napoleonic War, head the largest volunteer army in Britain. But when financial catastophe forced him to the Isle of Man, a harrowing shipwreck and guilty conscience inspired his historic campaign. After the foundation of the institution in 1824, Hillary frequently braved terrifying storms to man lifeboats and save hundreds of lives, despite never learning to swim. Thanks to Hillary and the RNLI he founded, the sea remains a safer place today.