47ft Watson-class lifeboat

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Class overview
Name: 47ft Watson class
  • William Osborne, Littlehampton
  • Groves & Guttridge, Cowes
  • J. Samuel White, Cowes
Operators: Flag of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.svgRoyal National Lifeboat Institution
Preceded by: 46ft 9in Watson-class
Succeeded by: Tyne-class
Cost: £35,000-£40,500
Built: 1955-1963
In service: 1956-1991
Completed: 18
Lost: 2
Retired: 16
General characteristics
Class and type: 47ft Watson
Displacement: 23 tons
Length: 47 ft (14 m)
Beam: 13 ft (4.0 m)
Draught: 4 ft 5 in (1.35 m)
Propulsion: 2 × 60bhp Gardner 5LW 5-cyl. diesel
Speed: 9 knots
Range: 280 nm
Crew: 8

The 47 ft Watson-class was a class of non self-righting displacement hull lifeboat built from 1955 to 1963 and operated by the RNLI between 1956 and 1991.


The 47 ft Watson was the final development of the basic hull design laid out by George Lennox Watson in the late nineteenth century and was designed by James Barnett. They were the final Watson type boats to be built and survived in service almost to the end of the displacement hull era. The prototype, Dunnet Head (Civil Service No.31) (ON 920), was built in 1955 and was placed on station at Thurso in January 1956. Unfortunately, on 10 December 1956, the boathouse at Thurso caught fire and both it and the lifeboat inside were destroyed. No further 47 ft Watsons were built during 1956 and production of the 46 ft 9in Watson continued during that year. Production of the new type resumed in 1957, with the first being a replacement boat for Thurso, still Civil Service no.31, but named Pentland. Production continued until 1963 when large displacement hull development turned to the self-righting 48 ft 6in Oakley-class and later Solent-class.


Compared to the preceding 46ft 9in Watson-class lifeboat, the new boats had a hull extended by 3 inches in both length and beam. The wheelhouse was fully enclosed with sliding doors on either side and there were bulwarks above the fenders fore and aft and, from the second boat, the forward cabin was increased in size. As with the previous year's 42ft Watson-class, the boats were powered by commercial diesel engines rather than the RNLI designed units used previously. In this case, two 60 bhp Gardner 5LW five cylinder diesels were fitted with the exhaust being taken up the mast as on the later 46 ft 9in boats. As built, the boats had line aerials rigged from the forward mast to a pole mast aft of the rear cabin. During their careers, this rig was replaced by twin pole aerials and the aft mast was removed. Radar was fitted on a bracket on the port side of the rear cabin roof (some had it fitted to the wheelhouse roof). From 1973, the boats were modified to become self-righting by, in most cases, the fitting of an air bag on the starboard side of the rear cabin roof, adjacent to the radar. This gave a once only self-righting ability which was successfully deployed when Salcombe's The Baltic Exchange capsized on service in 1983. Six boats were rebuilt with larger forward and aft superstructures (akin to the 48 ft 6in Oakley and Solent classes) which made them inherently self-righting. In these boats the masts were removed and the exhaust outlets were on the side of the hull. The engines in these six were uprated to 70 bhp and these modified boats were the longest lasting of the type, all but one serving into the 1990s.


ON is the RNLI's sequential Official Number.

ON Name Built Builder In service Stations Comments
920 Dunnet Head (Civil Service No.31) 1955 William Osborne, Littlehampton 1956 Thurso Destroyed by fire in boathouse 10/12/1956
940 Pentland (Civil Service No.31) 1957 J. Samuel White, Cowes 1957–1970
Relief fleet
The Mumbles
Self-righting mods 1974-5. Sold March 1991
947 Margaret 1958 Groves & Guttridge, Cowes 1959–1986 Dunbar Sold in 1987
950 Kathleen Mary 1959 William Osborne, Littlehampton 1959–1977
Relief fleet
Self-righting mods 1978-9. Sold April 1990
951 Francis K. Wotherspoon of Paisley 1959 William Osborne, Littlehampton 1959–1979
Relief fleet
Sold October 1986
953 Sarah Jane and James Season 1960 Groves & Guttridge, Cowes 1960–1986
Shoreham Harbour
Sold in 1989
954 Solomon Browne 1960 William Osborne, Littlehampton 1960–1981 Penlee Wrecked on service 19/12/1981. Eight crew lost.
955 The Robert 1960 William Osborne, Littlehampton 1960–1978
Broughty Ferry
Lytham St Annes
Self-righting mods 1976-7. Sold February 1992
957 The Jeanie 1961 Groves & Guttridge, Cowes 1961–1986 Portpatrick Sold in 1987
958 Laura Moncur 1961 Groves & Guttridge, Cowes 1961–1984
Relief fleet
Self-righting mods 1972-3. Sold November 1988
959 Helen Wycherley 1961 Groves & Guttridge, Cowes 1961–1969
Courtmacsherry Harbour
Sold December 1988
962 T.G.B. 1962 J. Samuel White, Cowes 1962–1969
Relief fleet
Capsized on service at Longhope 17/3/1969, eight crew lost.
Sold in 1986. Now at the Scottish Maritime Museum.
963 A.M.T. 1962 J. Samuel White, Cowes 1962–1986
Relief fleet
Sold June 1989
964 The Baltic Exchange 1962 J. Samuel White, Cowes 1962–1988 Salcombe Capsized on service 10/4/1983, righted by air bag.
Sold in 1989
965 Louisa Anne Hawker 1962 Groves & Guttridge, Cowes 1962–1986 Appledore Sold August 1987
969 William Myers and Sarah Jane Myers 1963 J. Samuel White, Cowes 1963–1990
Relief fleet
Self-righting mods 1975-6. Sold in 1992
970 Frederick Edward Crick 1963 J. Samuel White, Cowes 1963–1986 Lowestoft Sold October 1986
971 Joseph Soar (Civil Service No.34) 1963 J. Samuel White, Cowes 1963–1985
St Davids
Shoreham Harbour
Self-righting mods 1976-7. Sold August 1992

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