Watson-class lifeboat

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Postcard of the Dedication of Lord Southborough in 1925.jpg
45ft 6in Watson RNLB Lord Southborough (Civil Service No. 1) (ON 688)
Class overview
OperatorsRoyal National Lifeboat Institution
In service1888–1991

The term Watson-class lifeboat refers to several wooden lifeboat classes operated by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) around the coasts of the United Kingdom and Ireland between 1888 and 1991. The boats had hulls that conformed to the basic design laid down by RNLI naval architect George Lennox Watson.


During the late Victorian period, the vast majority of lifeboats in service with the RNLI were of the self-righting type. The disadvantage of the self-righters was their lack of stability and to meet the requirements of stations which preferred the stability of a non self-righting type G.L. Watson conceived the hull type that bore his name. The first Watson, RNLB Edith and Annie (ON 208), was built in 1888 and was 42 ft 3 in (12.9 m) long. Over the next 27 years, 42 Watson-class pulling and sailing types were built at a variety of lengths, the commonest being the 38-footer (11.6 m).

In 1904 the RNLI began experimenting with motor lifeboats when a 38 ft Self-righter was converted. In 1906 three other lifeboats were converted to motor but none of these was a Watson. However, when in 1908 the first new build motor lifeboats were constructed, two of them were Watson types. Over the next 55 years, 171 boats of the various Watson-classes were built. There was, of course, no connection between a 1908 40 ft Watson and a 1963 47 ft Watson other than a similarity in basic hull form.

There were 11 lengths of boat in 8 separate classes:

Length Build range No. built
38 ft (11.6 m)
40 ft (12.2 m)
40 ft 6 in (12.3 m)
43 ft (13.1 m)
1908–1930 15
45 ft (13.7 m) 1912–1925 22
45 ft 6 in (13.9 m) 1926–1935 23
41 ft (12.5 m) 1933–1952 13
46 ft (14.0 m) 1936–1946 28
46 ft 9 in (14.2 m) 1947–1956 28
42 ft (12.8 m) 1954–1962 10
47 ft (14.3 m) 1955–1963 18


38-43ft Watson-class[edit]

The first Watson motor lifeboats were based on the most common pulling and sailing hulls, the 38 ft, 40 ft and 43 ft types. Apart from the addition of an engine and propeller, there was little to distinguish them from their sail and oar powered predecessors. The engines in the early motor types were regarded almost as an auxiliary and the boats, which had an open deck with end boxes, retained sails and oars. Engines from Tylor, Blake and Wolseley were used, although the Tylor was the most satisfactory and the two Blake engined boats were re-engined with Tylors in 1914. Power output of the Tylors was 40 bhp which gave a speed of around seven knots.

ON[a] Name Built Builder Length Beam In service Stations Comments
560 Maria 1908 Thames Iron Works, Blackwall 40 ft (12.2 m) 11 ft (3.4 m) 1910–1921
Broughty Ferry
Shoreham Harbour
Sold in 1932
565 John Ryburn 1908 Thames Iron Works, Blackwall 43 ft (13.1 m) 12 ft 6 in (3.8 m) 1909–1915
Peterhead No.2
Broughty Ferry
Sold February 1935
Charles Deere James 1909[1] Thames Iron Works, Blackwall 38 ft (11.6 m) 6 ft 4 in (1.9 m) 1909–1920 St Agnes Unknown
595 William and Laura 1910 Thames Iron Works, Blackwall 43 ft (13.1 m) 12 ft 6 in (3.8 m) 1910–1932
Sold in 1935
602 Elliot Galer 1910 Thames Iron Works, Blackwall 38 ft (11.6 m) 10 ft (3.0 m) 1911–1936 Seaham Harbour Sold in 1936
603 Helen Smitton 1910 Thames Iron Works, Blackwall 38 ft (11.6 m) 10 ft (3.0 m) 1911–1936 St Abbs Sold in 1936
620 William MacPherson 1912 Thames Iron Works, Blackwall 43 ft (13.1 m) 12 ft 6 in (3.8 m) 1912–1929
Aldeburgh No.2
Sold September 1940
621 Frederick Kitchen 1913 Thames Iron Works, Blackwall 43 ft (13.1 m) 12 ft 6 in (3.8 m) 1914–1945
Reserve fleet
Sold in 1948
622 Alexander Tulloch 1912 Thames Iron Works, Blackwall 43 ft (13.1 m) 12 ft 6 in (3.8 m) 1912–1914 Peterhead No.2 Wrecked on service 26/12/1914, three crew lost
651 Samuel Oakes 1918 Summers & Payne, Southampton/
S.E. Saunders, Cowes
40 ft (12.2 m) 11 ft (3.4 m) 1919–1923
Shoreham Harbour
Sold January 1933
677 Prince David 1922 J. Samuel White, Cowes 40 ft (12.2 m) 11 ft (3.4 m) 1922–1937 Barry Dock Sold December 1937
691 K.B.M. 1922 J. Samuel White, Cowes 40 ft (12.2 m) 11 ft (3.4 m) 1922–1949
Reserve fleet
Sold September 1952
  1. ^ ON is the RNLI's Official Number of the boat.

45ft Watson-class[edit]

The first standard class of Watson motor, began with the conversion of a pulling and sailing boat in 1912. Production began in 1919 and 22 boats were built between then and 1925.

45ft 6in Watson-class[edit]

The 45 ft 6in Watson marked the transition from single engine to twin engine layout. The first two boats were single engined, but the rest were twins. Produced between 1926 and 1935, 23 were built.

40ft 6in Watson-class[edit]

This small series of single engine boats built in 1929-30 was the precursor of the twin engine 41 ft (12.5 m) type of 1933, which had a hull of the same 11 ft 8 in (3.6 m) beam but six inches (15 cm) longer. The boats resembled scaled down versions of the contemporary 45 ft 6 in (13.9 m) type, with a small shelter ahead of the aft cockpit with the exhaust funnel in front of it. All were built by J. Samuel White at Cowes and were powered by a 50 bhp Weyburn CE4 4-cylinder petrol engine driving a single screw. They served until the mid 1950s when they were replaced at their respective stations by new 42ft Watson class boats.

ON[a] Name Built In Service Stations Comments
721 Lady Kylsant 1929 1929–1930
Sold in 1956
722 J. and W. 1929 1929–1937
Reserve fleet
Sold May 1957
723 Sir David Richmond of Glasgow 1929 1929–1955 Troon Sold June 1956
724 G.W. 1930 1930–1956 Moelfre Sold May 1956
  1. ^ ON is the RNLI's Official Number of the boat.

41ft Watson-class[edit]

The first twin engined medium-sized Watson class intended for stations unable to accommodate the larger types. Thirteen were built, nine between 1933 and 1939 and a further four between 1948 and 1952.

46ft Watson-class[edit]

The next development of the large Watson saw the introduction of diesel engines. Four of the first five were petrol engined, the fourth was the first new build diesel engined lifeboat for the RNLI and the remainder followed suit. Twenty eight boats were built, not including two destroyed whilst under construction in an air raid on Groves & Guttridge's yard at Cowes. Production ran from 1936 to 1946.

46ft 9in Watson-class[edit]

The first post-war Watson type, the first five resembled the 46 ft (14.0 m) type, but from 1948 a major redesign resulted in a new superstructure with midships steering and a large cabin aft. Twenty eight were built between 1947 and 1956.

42ft Watson-class[edit]

Like the 41 ft (12.5 m) intended for stations unable to accommodate larger types but needing something bigger than a carriage launched type, the 42 ft (12.8 m) Watson introduced the use of commercial diesel engines rather than the RNLI's own designs. Ten were built between 1954 and 1962

47ft Watson-class[edit]

The final incarnation of the Watson inspired hull, the 47 ft (14.3 m) Watson was the last non self-righting class built for the RNLI other than the 70 ft (21.3 m) Clyde-class cruising boats. They were the first type to have an enclosed wheelhouse (other than the unique "fast" lifeboat of 1929). The first was built in 1955, but full production began in 1957 and continued to 1963 with eighteen built.


  1. ^ "New Lifeboat for Scilly". Cornishman. Truro. 29 July 1909. Retrieved 28 September 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive.