1930: First fast motor-powered lifeboat

The first fast motor lifeboat to arrive at the newly reopened Dover Lifeboat Station in 1930 was one of a kind.
Dover’s 1930 fast motor lifeboat, Sir William Hillary
Dover’s 1930 fast motor lifeboat, Sir William Hillary

The first fast motor lifeboat to arrive at the newly reopened Dover Lifeboat Station in 1930 was one of a kind.

Designed to reach casualties rapidly, Sir William Hillary – named after the RNLI’s founder – was in response to an increasing number of aircraft flying over the Channel, and coming down at sea.

Built by Thornycroft at Platt’s Eyot, Hampton-on-Thames, and moored afloat, the new lifeboat – powered by two 375hp petrol engines – had a top speed of around 18 knots, making her nearly twice as fast as other motor lifeboats of her time.

Her onboard electricity supply provided lighting for the crew, as well as powering a wireless radio, searchlight, throwline night tracers and a Morse code signalling lamp.

She was the first lifeboat to have a cabin, giving crew a degree of protection against the weather.

The lifeboat was also equipped with jets for spraying fire-extinguishing fluid and could accommodate 50 casualties below deck.

The crew of Sir William Hillary received gallantry awards and Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum for rescuing 16 crew members from the stricken trawler Blackburn Rovers, which was on anti-submarine patrol in the Channel in November 1939.

After suffering a fouled propeller, the trawler was blown towards a minefield on a south-westerly gale.

Ten years after entering service at Dover, Sir William Hillary became an air-sea rescue boat for the Admiralty.