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Inshore Lifeboat Centre

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​The RNLI constructs up to 60% of the lifeboats it needs in its own purpose-built manufacturing facility, the Inshore Lifeboat Centre (ILC) in East Cowes.

Fifty lifeboats are now constructed at the centre each year, while up to 200 are serviced and refurbished.

How to find us

​RNLI Inshore Lifeboat Centre
Clarence Road
East Cowes
Isle of Wight
PO32 6HB

Telephone: 01983 292521

Atlantic-sponsons.jpgThe facility on the Isle of Wight is highly respected across the globe as a centre of excellence for the building and maintenance of inflatable and rigid inflatable lifeboats, including the B class and D class lifeboats, and the lifeguards' inshore rescue boat, the Arancia (which are constructed under licence from Arancia of New Zealand).

Not only does it make lifeboats for its own service, but it also constructs them for others. Recently craft have been supplied to the Dutch and Icelandic lifeboat services, the Police and Irish Coast Guard.

Gradually the site has grown and there is now a large building to house the production of the Atlantic 75 and Atlantic 85 rigid inflatable boats (RIBs), which incorporates a dedicated laminating shop, spray booth, machine shop and welding bay.   

The work is very skilled and a team of over 70 boatbuilders, fitters, electricians and solutionists are employed, including   apprentices as well as supporting office and stores persons.

They give support to lifeboat stations and lifeguard units on all aspects of inflatable and rigid inflatable boat supply and maintenance. Just like RNLI crews, their work and attention to detail is vital for saving lives at sea. 

The ILC does not operate alone, however. It is only one piece of a jigsaw. Other departments are critical to how the RNLI operates such as the Operations, Engineering, Training, Fundraising, IS and Purchasing departments, which all operate as a vital team.

Visitors are always welcome to see the work of the Inshore Lifeboat Centre firsthand, but please book beforehand and make an appointment. We are also pleased to host visits by schools and other organisations. 

The Inshore Lifeboat Centre is located in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight and is easily reached from the mainland by regular ferry services.  

Much of the work needed to build inflatable and rigid inflatable boats used by the RNLI is carried out at the Inshore Lifeboat Centre.

Inflatable boats

Hulls of inflatable D class lifeboats and those of the X, XP and Y boats, lifeguard Arancia inshore rescue boats and boarding boats are either brought in from the manufacturer or made at the ILC.

Rigid inflatable boats

The basic hull of the rigid inflatable B class Atlantic 75 was moulded at the ILC in a purpose-built workshop. Atlantic 85 hulls are currently manufactured by outside contractors but will soon be on site at the ILC.

Petrol tanks are installed below deck and the sponson (inflatable tube) is carefully fitted to the rigid glass-fibre hull. A console for the crew to sit on, incorporating a steering wheel, engine controls, batteries, electrics and instruments is fitted out and added.

  • Constructing floor of D class a Equipment must be stowed in neat compartments, each one purpose-made. The lifeboats' inflatable sides are in sections, so if one is punctured the others remain inflated.
  • D class fit out D class fit out
  • Fitting out of a D class Fitting out D class - Nathan Williams Radios, first aid kits, compasses, anchors, throwing lines, grab handles, fire extinguishers, flexible fuel tanks, sea anchors, spare propellers and tool kits are then fitted.
  • Atlantic sponsons Atlantic sponsons
  • Construction of console Construction of console The aft roll bar carries a righting system inflated by CO2 bottles as well as navigation equipment such as radar. The Engineering Department at RNLI Headquarters collaborated with ILC staff to develop the righting system along with inversion proofing for engines and electrical equipment so engines will restart after the crew have righted the capsized lifeboat.
  • Fit out of Atlantic Construction of Atlantic B class lifeboat These systems are unique to the RNLI's vessels. Staff at the ILC who build and refit the lifeboats, also test and trial the vessels to ensure absolute reliability and quality prior to delivery to the appropriate station.

​Carrying out rescues at sea in all conditions obviously takes its toll on the RNLI's inshore lifeboats. 

Any damaged lifeboats need to repaired straight away. If possible, this will be carried out at the station by an appropriate technician sent from the Inshore Lifeboat Centre. 

If this is not possible, to ensure no lifeboat station is without a boat for more than 24 hours, the supporting relief fleet means an immediate replacement can be arranged.

Each lifeboat has regular service overhauls to keep it in top condition. Depending on the class of inflatable, each lifeboat also had an annual or biannual refit, while Atlantic lifeboats received regular refits every 4 years. 

However, the RNLI is moving to condition-based maintenance (CBM) to ensure only equipment that needs servicing gets serviced, based on its regular inspections and its condition and wear.

The ILC also supplies and refurbishes X, Y and XP smaller inflatables carried as daughter craft on all-weather lifeboats, as boarding boats and for service at South Broads Lifeboat Station. 

A visitor to the centre commented: ‘It’s like a lifeboat hospital!’

 

The RNLI constructs up to 60% of the lifeboats it needs in its own purpose-built manufacturing facility in Cowes.

The facility on the Isle of Wight is highly respected across the globe as a centre of excellence for the building and maintenance of inflatable and rigid inflatable lifeboats, including the Atlantic series, the D class and the Lifeguards' inshore rescue boat the Arancia.

Not only does it make lifeboats for its own service, but it also constructs them for others. Recently craft have been supplied to the Dutch and Icelandic lifeboat services, the Police and HM Coastguard.

Gradually the site has grown and particularly with the latest addition of a large new building to house the production of the Atlantic 75 and Atlantic 85 rigid inflatable boats (RIB's). 

Following the recent building of the new engine workshops, the Atlantic workshop is currently being built.  It will house the equipment and staff to help carry out the new build and refit of Atlantic 75/85 in a more efficient and leaner process.

(The images are updated daily between 12:45pm and 1:00pm. You may need to press Ctrl+F5 on your keyboard to update images)

The RNLI has used shipyards at Cowes since 1913 when SE Saunders was contracted to build a number of pulling and sailing lifeboats. 

The site of the present Inshore Lifeboat Centre was first used by the RNLI in 1930 as stores and offices for overseers responsible for lifeboats being built at the yards of JS White and Groves and Gutteridge in Cowes, and William Osborne at Littlehampton. The RNLI's timber stock for building and repairing lifeboats also used to be on the site.

Inflatable D class lifeboats were first introduced into the RNLI fleet in June 1963 to cope with a growing number of people, who were using the sea for leisure purposes, getting into difficulty close to the shore. 

By 1967, the yard had begun repair and maintenance work for inflatable lifeboats and outboard engines. More buildings and land have been acquired as the fleet of inshore lifeboats has increased. 

In 1972, the Atlantic 21 was produced at the Inshore Lifeboat Centre and in 1993 work commenced on the Atlantic 75. The larger and more powerful Atlantic 85 was introduced to the fleet in 2005.   

A purpose-built outboard engine workshop was built in 2004 where engines are serviced and inversion-proofed, a facility envied by many who visit the site.  

In 2008, the centre expanded to accommodate a new Lean manufacturing assembly line to speed up production, increase capacity and make it more efficient, while allowing continuous improvement.