a line, fired across a ship or boat, by means of which a hawser for a breeches buoy may be hauled aboard.
a line or rope for saving life, as one attached to a lifeboat.
any of various lines running above the decks, spars, etc., of a ship or boat to give sailors something to grasp when there is danger of falling or being washed away.
a wire safety rope supported by stanchions along the edge of the deck of a yacht.
the line by which a diver is lowered and raised.
any of several anchored lines used by swimmers for support.
a route or means of transportation or communication for receiving or delivering food, medicine, or assistance: This road is the town's lifeline and must be kept open despite the snow.
assistance at a critical time.

1690–1700; life + line1 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
lifeline (ˈlaɪfˌlaɪn)
1.  a line thrown or fired aboard a vessel for hauling in a hawser for a breeches buoy
2.  any rope or line attached to a vessel or trailed from it for the safety of passengers, crew, swimmers, etc
3.  a line by which a deep-sea diver is raised or lowered
4.  a vital line of access or communication

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Example sentences
Unprecedented research and rescue efforts may offer a lifeline to species on
  the edge.
Compact nuclear power plants may be a lifeline for a struggling industry.
Writing was neither hobby nor diversion, but lifeline.
In other words, the humanitarian lifeline is on the verge of snapping.
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