1963: Inflatable lifeboats

Inflatable lifeboats were introduced to our fleet to help crews reach areas close to shore, cliffs and caves and remain the workhorse of the RNLI today.
Inflatable lifeboats were introduced to the RNLI

Photo: David Jenkins

Early trials of the D class inflatable inshore lifeboat at Aberystwyth Lifeboat Station

Inflatable lifeboats were introduced to the RNLI fleet to help crews reach areas close to shore, cliffs and caves. These inshore lifeboats remain the workhorse of the RNLI today.

Fast inflatable inshore lifeboats

These fast and small lifesaving craft answered the need for a quicker and more agile response to rescues in areas of water that were ill-suited to the large all-weather lifeboats. 

The first inflatable inshore lifeboats were constructed using a tough nylon material proofed with neoprene. Powered by a 40hp outboard motor engine, they could reach speeds of 20 knots or more. They measured 15ft 9” (4.8m) in length.

Each craft would normally have two crew members onboard. Two shore crew would be needed to help launch. 

Aberystwyth, Gorleston, Redcar and Wells were the first stations to receive this new type of lifeboat. This was followed by trials at points along the coast between established lifeboat stations at: Mudeford; Southwold; West Mersea; and Whitstable. An inshore lifeboat has remained at these eight stations since this introduction in 1963. 

The first lifesaving service by an inflatable inshore lifeboat crew was on 3 June 1963 when Aberystwyth volunteers rescued three people and their dog who had been cut off by the tide.

The D class today

Over the last 50 years, our D class lifeboat has proved itself invaluable in saving lives at sea. This craft has enabled crew to reach, rescue and save people in seemingly impossible situations, including those stuck on cliffs, stranded on rocks and trapped in caves. 

Today’s D class inshore lifeboats can carry up to three crew members and are powered by a single 50hp outboard engine. 

Onboard equipment includes both fitted and hand-held VHF radio, night-vision equipment and first aid kit, including oxygen.