Fowey Lifeboat Station

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Fowey Lifeboat Station
Fowey - by the lifeboat landing stage - - 1820548.jpg
Fowey Lifeboat Station is located in Cornwall
Fowey Lifeboat Station
General information
TypeRNLI Lifeboat Station
LocationPassage Street, PL23 1DE
CountryUnited Kingdom
Coordinates50°20′21″N 4°37′57″W / 50.3391°N 4.6326°W / 50.3391; -4.6326Coordinates: 50°20′21″N 4°37′57″W / 50.3391°N 4.6326°W / 50.3391; -4.6326
Opened1859 at Polkerris
1922 at Fowey
Current boathouse 1997
OwnerRoyal National Lifeboat Institution

Fowey Lifeboat Station is the base for Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) search and rescue operations at Fowey on the south coast of Cornwall in the United Kingdom. The first lifeboat was stationed in the area in 1859 and the present station was opened in 1997. It operates a Trent Class all weather boat (AWB) and a D class (IB1) inshore lifeboat (ILB).


Fowey stands at the mouth of the River Fowey where it forms a natural deep water harbour. The town has a long history of fishing and merchant shipping, although the present quays busy with ships loading china clay were only developed in the 1860s.[1] To the west lies St Austell Bay which includes the port of Par which was built in the 1840s to handle the mineral traffic from Joseph Treffry's mines and quarries, and Charlestown which had been established about fifty years earlier by Charles Rashleigh.[2] A fatal ship wreck on the Gribben Head between Fowey and St Austell Bay on 6 May 1856 prompted William Rashleigh, a local landowner, to offer the RNLI £50 towards a lifeboat for Fowey and land and building stone for a boathouse.[3]


Polkerris. The old lifeboat house is the large white building on the left.

The position of the mouth of the River Fowey meant that it would be nearly impossible to launch a "pulling and sailing" lifeboat (that is, one powered by oars and sails) during the more dangerous storms when the wind blew from the south, and so it was decided to station the lifeboat at Polkerris, a small fishing village with a breakwater on the east side of St Austell Bay. A boathouse was built at the top of the beach for £138 4s (£138.20) on land donated by Rashleigh. The lifeboat was delivered free of charge to Lostwithiel railway station in November 1859 by the Cornwall Railway, and then rowed down the river through Fowey and around St Austell Bay to show it to the public. It was named Catherine Rashleigh after William's wife, who was another of the major donors towards its cost.[4]

The first, six-oared, lifeboat was replaced in 1866 by a larger ten-oared boat, the Rochdale and Catherine Rashleigh, which meant that the boathouse had to be altered.[5] So far the official name had been "Fowey Lifeboat Station" but in 1892 it became "Polkerris". In 1895 it changed again to the compromise of "Polkerris and Fowey", but in 1904 it reverted to "Polkerris".[6] During a launch in 1908 a chain broke, and an inspection of the station found that the gradient changed three times in the boathouse and slipway; this was altered by February 1909 to make launching safer.[7] Several requests were made around this time for a lifeboat be stationed at Fowey but the RNLI decided that the one at Polkerris was operating efficiently. Conditions changed following World War I as the RNLI brought in plans for a more efficient service with motor lifeboats, when it was decided that Fowey would be a better location for such a boat. Polkerris Lifeboat Station closed in 1922, after which it was converted into a café.[8]


Despite the promise of a motor lifeboat, the first boat stationed at Fowey was a 12-oared pulling and sailing boat. It was kept moored afloat in the river near Town Quay where the crew had use of a building on the waterfront. In August 1928 the boat was declared unfit for service and so a 45 ft 6in Watson-class motor lifeboat that was intended for Thurso Lifeboat Station, the H.C.J. (ON 708), was stationed at Fowey for a few months until Fowey's own boat, the C.D.E.C. (ON 712), arrived and went on station on 6 December. Fitted with two 40 bhp engines, it had a maximum speed of 8 knots (15 km/h) and could operate up to 78 78 nautical miles (144 km) from her station.[9] C.D.E.C. served at Fowey until November 1954, launching on service 65 times and saving 49 lives.[10] On 24 November 1954 Fowey's brand new 46 ft 9in Watson-class Deneys Reitz (ON 919) went on station and spent her entire career at Fowey until withdrawal in May 1980. She had launched on service 155 times, saving 36 lives.

Deneys Reitz replacement was a much older Relief fleet 46 ft Watson-class, the 1946 built Gertrude (ON 847) which was at Fowey for eighteen months until November 1981. The former St. Marys 46 ft 9in Watson-class Guy and Clare Hunter (ON 926) was the next boat, but served for less than two months before being sent to Penlee to replace the ill-fated Solomon Browne. Another Relief fleet 46 ft 9in Watson, Charles Henry Ashley (ON 866) then filled the breach, but on 16 October 1982 a new type of craft took up station, the first of its class to be put into service. The Leonore Chilcott (ON 1083) was a Brede class lifeboat. Powered by two 203 hp Caterpillar diesel engines, these "intermediate" lifeboats were not able to operate in the storms above Force 8, but otherwise could operate at up to 20 knots (37 km/h) and had a range of 140 nautical miles (260 km).[11] She served for five years before being replaced by the older but larger ex-Plymouth Waveney-class Thomas Forehead & Mary Rowse II (ON 1028). The Waveney served for more than 8​12 years, launching on service 169 times and saving 35 lives before being replaced by the current Trent-class in October 1996.

The RNLI started to provide small, fast inshore rescue boats in the 1960s, but it was not until August 1996 that one was stationed at Fowey. The harbour at Mevagissey had been considered as a possible ILB station but no suitable site could be found. The small D Class inflatable was initially kept in a wooden container at Berrill's Yard and launched using a davit near the AWB's moorings which had recently been moved from Town Quay. On 4 October 1997 a unique triple ceremony took place at Fowey to bring into service not just a new purpose-built lifeboat station Berrill's Yard at but also to christen the station's two newest lifeboats, Trent Class AWB Maurice and Joyce Hardy (ON 1222) and D Class IRB Olive Herbert.[12]

Service awards[edit]

The volunteer crews of the RNLI do not expect reward or recognition for their work, but the records include many rescues that have been recognised by letters, certificates and medals from the RNLI management. The following are just some of the most notable at Fowey.

Two large sailing ships ran aground in a strong gale near Par harbour on 25 November 1865. The Catherine Rashleigh put to sea from Polkerris under the command of Joshua Heath, but lost four oars before she reached the ships. The crew of one then launched their own small boat but this broke away with just one man and the ship's cat on board. The lifeboat managed to reach them and took them to Par where they took on some replacement oars and returned to the grounded ships. After landing 13 men from the larger vessel at Par, and taking on two fresh rowers, returned to rescue the remaining nine people. The whole rescue took five hours and resulted in Joshua Heath being awarded a silver medal by the RNLI.[13]

Before dawn on 23 March 1947 distress signals were reported near Par Sands. Relief Lifeboat The Brothers set out from Fowey at 04:40. After an hour's search through rain-swept heavy seas a sunken ship was found near Killyvarder Rock, with the crew in gathered on a small part that was still out of the water. The tide was rising and so the lifeboat swiftly moved in but had to haul the men on a rope through the sea. Lifeboat Coxswain John Watters was awarded a bronze medal and the efforts of his crew were also recognised.[14]


The three-storey lifeboat station was built in 1997 in a style that blends with the older buildings around it. The gabled central section has covered facilities for the IRB at ground floor level and a small bow window at first floor level. On the left is a two-storey wing which includes a fund-raising RNLI shop. The right hand wing is three storeys high. It is on the landward side of Passage Street opposite the IRB's launch site and the AWB's moorings.[12]

Area of operation[edit]

The RNLI aims to reach any casualty up to 50 miles (80 km) from its stations, and within two hours in good weather. To do this the Trent class lifeboat at Fowey has an operating range of 250 nautical miles (460 km) and a top speed of 25 knots (46 km/h).[15] Adjacent lifeboats are an ILB at Looe Lifeboat Station and an AWB at Plymouth Lifeboat Station to the East, and both and AWB and ILB at Falmouth Lifeboat Station to the West.[16]


'ON' is the RNLI's sequential Official Number; 'Op. No.' is the operational number painted onto the boat.

Pulling and sailing lifeboats[edit]

ON Name Built At Fowey Class Comments
Catherine Rashleigh 1859 1859–1866 6-oared self-righter Broken up 1867[17]
Rochdale and Catherine Rashleigh 1866 1866–1887 10-oared self-righter Renamed Rochdale (1873); Arthur Hill (1879). Sold out of service 1891.[18]
136 Arthur Hill 1887 1887–1904 10-oared self-righter Broken up 1904.[19]
515 James, William and Caroline Courtenay 1904 1904–1922 10-oared Watson Sold and still in use as yacht Gray Fox in 2006.[20][21]
394 James, William and Caroline Courtenay 1897 1922–1926 12-oared self-righter Formerly Civil Service No. 4[22]
505 William Roberts 1903 1926–1928 12-oared Watson Sold and still in use as yacht Quest in 2006.[23][21]

Motor lifeboats[edit]

ON Op. No. Name Built At Fowey Class Comments
708 H.C.J. 1928 1928 45ft 6in Watson-class Sold and still in use as pleasure boat Seawitch at Peel, Isle of Man in 2008.[24][25]
712 C.D.E.C. 1928 1928–1954 45ft 6in Watson-class Sold, was out of use and carrying the name Thameserver in 2008.[26][25]
919 Denys Reitz 1954 1954–1980 46ft 9in Watson-class Sold and still in use as a cruiser in 2006.<[27][28]
847 Gertrude 1946 1980–1981 46ft Watson-class Sold and in use at Mevagissy.[29][30]
926 Guy and Clare Hunter 1955 1981–1982 46ft 9in Watson-class Sold and in use at Donaghadee.[29][28]
866 Charles Henry Ashley 1949 1982 46ft 9in Watson-class Sold and working in France as Charles Ashley.[29][31]
1083 33-03 Leonore Chilcott 1982 1982–1987 Brede-class Sold and working as a pilot boat at Braye, Alderney.[11][32]
1028 44-010 Thomas Foreland and Mary Rowse II 1974 1987–1996 Waveney-class Sold to New Zealand Coastguard in 1999 as lifeboat Westgate Rescue at New Plymouth.[33][34]
1222 14-18 Maurice and Joyce Hardy 1996 1996- Trent-class

Inshore lifeboats[edit]

Op. No. Name At Fowey Class Type Comments
D-390 Tiger D 1996–1997 D EA16 Withdrawn from service.[35]
D-433 Marjorie 1997 D EA16 Withdrawn from service.[35]
D-526 Olive Herbert 1997–2007? D EA16 Withdrawn from service.[36]
D-681 Olive Two 2007- D EA16

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Keast, John (1987) [1950]. The Story of Fowey. Redruth: Dyllansow Truran. ISBN 1-85022-035-2.
  2. ^ Roddis, Roland (1951). Cornish Harbours. London: Christopher Johnson Publishers. pp. 37–46.
  3. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). Fowey Lifeboats, an Illustrated History. Stroud: Tempus Publishing. p. 13. ISBN 0-7524-2378-9.
  4. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). p. 14. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). p. 17. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). p. 28. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). p. 22. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 26–30. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 30–33. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2005). RNLI Motor Lifeboats. Ashbourne: Landmark Publishing. p. 38. ISBN 1-84306-201-1.
  11. ^ a b Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 63–74. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ a b Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 93–112. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). p. 16. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 40–41. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. ^ Wake-Walker, Edward (2008). The Lifeboats Story. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-7509-4858-6.
  16. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). Handbook 2009. Shrewsbury: Lifeboat Enthusiasts Society. p. 68.
  17. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 14–17. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 17–19. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 19–20. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 20–25. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ a b Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 6–7. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 30–31. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). p. 31. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). p. 32. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^ a b Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 14–15. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  26. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 32–43. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  27. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 45–59. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  28. ^ a b Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 22–23. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  29. ^ a b c Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 59–61. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  30. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 18–19. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  31. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 20–21. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  32. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 28–29. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  33. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 75–93. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. ^ Denton, Tony (2009). pp. 26–27. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  35. ^ a b Leach, Nicholas (2002). p. 96. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  36. ^ Leach, Nicholas (2002). pp. 96–98. Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]