Blood transfusion therapy involves multiple steps to ensure selection of safe blood component for transfusion. This includes testing for infectious markers, full ABO compatibility, free from any clinically significant red cell antibodies and acceptable donor's red cell survival rates without destruction of recipient's red cells. The red cell antibodies present in healthy blood donors can cause severe haemolytic transfusion reaction, especially in massive blood transfusion recipients and paediatric patients. Hence, screening of red cell antibodies in donor blood is important to provide compatible blood products and to avoid haemolytic transfusion reactions in susceptible patient population. This study was planned to assess prevalence, aetiology and type of unexpected red cell antibodies in a large number of whole blood donor population in north India. Methods: This three-year prospective observational study included blood donor samples for antibody screening from January 2015 to December 2017. A total of 166,803 healthy blood donors including 156,128 (93.6%) males and 10,675 (6.4%) females were screened. Results: The prevalence of red cell antibodies was 0.17 per cent in our donor population. Of the total 286 donors with red cell antibodies, 248 (86.7%) had alloantibodies, 30 (10.5%) had autoantibodies and eight donors (2.8%) showed positive antibody screening with inconclusive results. Interpretation and conclusions: Alloimmunization to red cell antigens is a challenging task for current transfusion practices. The antibody screening in blood donors may improve the quality and safety of blood transfusion in the recipients. It also reduces the risk of complications from incompatible blood transfusions. © 2020 Indian Journal of Medical Research, published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow for Director-General, Indian Council of Medical Research.