It hopes to generate hundreds of thousands of pounds through the sale of an assortment of RNLI products, starting with a range of outdoor clothing launched in partnership with a clothing chain.
"We need to raise more than £100 million every year to support our current services, and expanding our official merchandise is one way of targeting a broader range of supporters," said David Brann, director of fundraising and marketing at the RNLI.
At present, the RNLI sells a small collection of branded merchandise exclusively to its members through its Christmas catalogue. But now the charity intends to tap new sources of income by broadening its trading operations.
The move comes as the RNLI contemplates another tough financial year.
Revenue from legacy donations, which account for two-thirds of the charity's income, fell from £78 million to £68 million in 2002, with a similar decline expected this year.
Jayne George, managing director of RNLI sales, said that the charity would limit the amount it invests in the new commercial operations by working through partnerships with major high-street retailers.
"It's not in our interest to spend much publicly raised money on commercial ventures, so we're going to be careful about working closely in conjunction with companies that we're assured of success with," she said.
The charity is aware of the pulling power of its brand, which is a trusted household name associated with strong civic values. It is assuring its supporters that it will retain full control over all licensing operations and will only launch products that reflect its core merits.
"We're fully aware of how moving into the commercial world can devalue a charity," said George. "We have an absolute veto over every licence we're selling, and will retain our complete authority over our brand at all costs."