Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboats

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Since its inception, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has provided lifeboats to lifeboat stations in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Once past their operation life, the boats have mostly been sold by the RNLI and purchased for domestic use, marine businesses for usage such as further sea lifesaving functions, diving, fishing and pleasure trips or to maritime lifesaving institutions from other countries to continue a lifesaving role. Some lifeboats of particular historic note have been preserved in museums.


Girvan harbour and lifeboat
An 1863 tubular lifeboat from New Brighton, Merseyside

The Royal Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (RNIPLS) was founded in March 1824.[1] The RNIPLS provided lifeboats to local committees, the Coastguard and harbour authorities. The Duke of Northumberland financed a competition for a standard design of a lifeboat. The winner was William Plenty, of Newbury, Berkshire. These "pulling boats" (rowing) were between 18 and 26 feet in length and were powered by between 4 and 10 oars. They had cork in their hull and shaped air-cases fore and aft.[2] Their double-ended designs could operate a rudder from either end, so there was no need to turn.

The RNIPLS suffered from lack of funds and poor organization. Following the loss of the RNIPLS lifeboat Providence and 20 of her crew of 24 in the mouth of the river Tyne in December 1849, the need for reorganisation was recognised. Algernon Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland, then First Lord of the Admiralty, took control. Richard Lewis was appointed secretary. The RNIPLS was replaced by the RNLI. Plenty's design was retired and a new design was introduced. These were larger, self-righting boats. They had a narrow beam, were 34 or 35 feet long with higher end-boxes containing the air-cases and were tested to self-right when capsized.

Later lifeboats were increased in length and were optionally powered by sail. Motors were introduced in the early 1900s. They had a greater range, facilitating the merging of lifeboat stations. Innovation in the design of lifeboats is continuous.

In 1962 the need for inshore lifeboats (ILB) was recognised. A French design was adopted, this was an inflatable of 16 foot length and a 40 hp engine with a speed of 20 knots and introduced as the D Class. It was faster than conventional lifeboats, at that time, could traverse shallow waters, go alongside persons in the water without harming them, and the running costs were much less than conventional lifeboats. In 1972 a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) was developed at Atlantic College in South Wales and introduced as the B Class Atlantic 21.

Historic lifeboat classes[edit]

Severn-class RNLI Spirit of Guernsey at St Peter Port

Many lifeboat designs were named after their designers or the area of the UK they came from. More recently they have been named after rivers of the UK and Ireland: in 2019 the current larger all-weather boats were Shannon, Tamar, Severn, Trent and Mersey.[3] Each class has several designs and lengths and their means of power ranges from early rowing, sailing, steam, petrol and now diesel.

Designed by Henry Greathead, the vessel was 30 feet long and designed to be rowed by a crew of 12. It was double-ended and featured ample amounts of cork lining. However, it also had a heavy keel for stability, as well as a long steering oar, and could be rowed in either direction. Greathead's lifeboat eventually came to be used in 10 different countries, and at least one British boat remained in service for 40 years.[5]
A non-self righting type of lifeboat of various dimensions and various numbers of oars used by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in the early part of the 20th century. Typically they were launched from carriages into the sea.
Used by the RNLI from the 1930s up to the 1980s. Two types appeared: single screw boat and twin screw boat introduced in 1945 as a more powerful version of the single screwed lifeboats.[6]
A prototype of a Rigid Inflatable Boat. The third that was built, funded by the RNLI, was powered by twin 285hp Caterpillar engines the Medina was capable of 28 knots using "jet" drives delivering a tonne of water per second to the nozzles at the rear of the boat.
Norfolk and Suffold class boats were able to operate further from shore and around the sandbanks common off East Anglia. James Steven No.14 Lifeboat is a surviving example.
Alfred Corry built Gt Yarmouth 1893. 44 ft Two-masted with oars, non-self righting.[7][8] The James Stephen No.14 was fitted with a engine[9]

Operational lifeboat classes[edit]

Class Name Op. No. Length Displacement Speed Range/
Crew Survivor Capacity Launch Type Introduced No. at Station No. in Relief Fleet Notes
All Weather Lifeboats (ALB)
Severn 17-XX 17.3m 42 tonnes 25 knots 250 nmi 7 124 Afloat 1996–2004 35 9 Gradually undergoing life extension.[12][13]
Tamar 16-XX 16.3m 32 tonnes 25 knots 250 nmi 7 118 Slipway or afloat 2005–2013 23 4 [14]
Trent 14-XX 14.3m 28 tonnes 25 knots 250 nmi 6 73 Afloat 1994–2003 29 8 [15]
Shannon 13-XX 13.6m 18 tonnes 25 knots 250 nmi 6 79 Carriage, afloat or slipway 2013– 27 2 ~ 50 planned.[16]
Mersey 12-XX 11.6m 14 tonnes 17 knots 140 nmi 6 43 Carriage, afloat or slipway 1988–1993 13 5 Gradually being replaced by Shannon class.[17]
Inshore Lifeboat (ILB)
B Class Atlantic 85 B-8XX 8.4m 1.8 tonnes 35 knots 3 hours 3-4 20 Carriage, davit or floating boathouse 2005– 75 20 [18]
E Class Mk2 E-XX 10.5m 5.9 tonnes 40 knots 3 hours 4 20 Afloat 2012– 3 - Used exclusively on the River Thames.[19]
E Class Mk3 E-XX 11.05m 7.78 tonnes 45 knots 3 hours 4 20 Afloat 2019– 1 -
Hovercraft H-XXX 8.0m 3.86 tonnes 30 knots 3 hours 2-4 6 From transporter or slipway 2002–2009 4 3 [20]
D Class (IB1) D-XXX 5.0m 400 kg 25 knots 3 hours 2-3 5 Trolley or davit 2003– 110 25 Varieties of D Class introduced from 1963.[21]
Arancia Class A-XX 3.9m 165 kg 26 knots 20 nmi 2 5-6 Trailer or trolly 2009– 5 - Additional 25 on lifeguarded beaches since 2001.[22]


Historic Lifeboat Owners Association[edit]

The Historic Lifeboat Owners Association has been set up for individuals who own, maintain, crew or have a general interest in historic lifeboats. The association is a community whereby people can share knowledge, experience, information and advise on the subject, organizes social events and historic lifeboat rallies.

At the beginning of each summer an ex-lifeboat rally is held at Fowey in Cornwall whereby owners bring their boats and display them to the public; this event is organized by Fowey RNLI and is an opportunity to raise funds for the RNLI. Rallies have also been held in Falmouth, Belfast, Glasgow, Poole and Yarmouth, Isle of Wight.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harvey, William (1825). Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. London. p. 54. Retrieved 15 July 2009.
  2. ^ "Report of the committee appointed to examine the lifeboats submitted to compete for the premium offered by his Grace the Duke of Northumberland". River & Rowing Museum. Retrieved 15 July 2009.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ "Our Fleet". RNLI.
  4. ^ "D Class Lifeboat" (PDF). RNLI. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 October 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  5. ^ [1] Archived 21 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Liverpool class lifeboats". Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  7. ^ djcragie. "Alfred Corry Lifeboat". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  8. ^ [2] Archived 6 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Home Page — Frinton & Walton Heritage Trust". Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  10. ^ [3] Archived 6 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Tyne Class Lifeboat" (PDF). RNLI. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 October 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  12. ^ "Severn Class Lifeboat — RNLI All-Weather Lifeboat Fleet". Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  13. ^ "The magnificent Severn set to save lives for another 25 years | RNLI". Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  14. ^ "Tamar Class Lifeboat — The RNLI's Lifeboat Fleet — RNLI". Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  15. ^ "Trent Class Lifeboat — The RNLI's Lifeboat Fleet — RNLI". Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  16. ^ "Shannon Class Lifeboat — the Latest All Weather Lifeboat". Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  17. ^ "Mersey Class Lifeboat — The RNLI's Lifeboat Fleet — RNLI". Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  18. ^ "B Class Atlantic Lifeboat — One Of The Fastest RNLI Lifeboats". Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  19. ^ "E Class Lifeboats — The RNLI Lifeboat Fleet". Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  20. ^ "Rescue Hovercraft — The RNLI's Lifeboat Fleet — RNLI". Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  21. ^ "D Class Lifeboat — The Workhorse Of The RNLI for 50 Years". Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  22. ^ "RNLI Lifeboat Fleet — Inshore Rescue Boats". Retrieved 6 July 2020.

External links[edit]