2013: The Shannon class lifeboat

In-house manufacture of the Shannon class lifeboat brings a new era of lifesaving to the RNLI.
Firs Shannon class lifeboat

Our very first Shannon class lifeboat, Jock and Annie Slater 1301, with her launch and recovery equipment

On Thursday 11 July 2013 at an official ceremony, the RNLI’s very first Shannon class lifeboat was named Jock and Annie Slater, after a former RNLI Chairman, Sir Jock Slater, and his wife, Lady Annie Slater.

The vessel’s 50-year operational life would begin at Dungeness Lifeboat Station in Kent, although as part of a relief fleet, the boat was destined for service across the UK and Ireland.

Former RNLI Operations Director Michael Vlasto, who officially accepted the new lifeboat during the ceremony, said: ‘When I joined the RNLI, I was visiting crews with 8-knot lifeboats. This one is three times as fast, and she is infinitely more manoeuvrable.’

An incredible machine

The Shannon class is the first modern RNLI all-weather lifeboat to be powered by waterjets instead of propellers, making her fast and agile.

She is also the first lifeboat to be built in-house at our All-weather Lifeboat Centre, which opened for business at RNLI Headquarters in Poole, Dorset, on 24 February 2015 (an official opening ceremony followed in August the same year).

As part of our goal to halve the number of drownings in the UK and Ireland by 2024, the Shannon will form part of a complete fleet of all-weather lifeboats capable of speeds up to 25 knots (about 28mph). The decision to build them in-house was made on forecast savings of around £3.7 million each year, compared to outsourced production.

The most agile and manoeuvrable vessel in our all-weather fleet, the Shannon class lifeboat was designed to meet a large number of very specific requirements.

She is self-righting and can endure up to 10 hours in extreme sea conditions. She is highly manoeuvrable even in shallower waters, and her Systems and Information Management System (SIMs) lets crew monitor, control and operate many of the boat’s systems from the safety of their seat.

These seats have impressive suspension to make arduous sea voyages in the worst conditions more comfortable and safer for crew by reducing the impact of vertical slamming forces.

Her distinctive hull shape is also designed to reduce the vertical and transverse slamming forces caused by rough seas, with a narrow bow to slice through water and a wide aft section to keep the Shannon steady.

RNLI Naval Architect Peter Eyre with his hull model design for the new Shannon class lifeboat

Photo: Nigel Millard

RNLI Naval Architect Peter Eyre with his hull model design for the new Shannon class lifeboat

Writing in The Telegraph newspaper’s Christmas Roadtest in 2012, journalist Andrew English described the Shannon class as: ‘… a good-looking boat, with a high prow and a workmanlike beam, and while her experimental paint is supposed to be much cheaper than the old, she's gleaming with the pride of her crew.'

Launch and recovery

Exmouth RNLI's Shannon class lifeboat, R and J Wellburn, being launched into the sea.

Photo: Nigel Millard

Exmouth RNLI’s Shannon class lifeboat, R and J Welburn, being launched into the sea

The Shannon’s launch and recovery system, designed in conjunction with Supacat Ltd for launching the lifeboat from a beach, is just as much an innovation as the lifeboat itself.

It works as a single tractor and carriage unit, with both the tractor's and carriage's tracks being driven to allow it to drive across uneven and soft ground without bogging down.

At the water's edge, the carriage bed can tilt, allowing the Shannon to be launched slipway-fashion in a wider variety of locations than is practical for the Mersey.

On return, the Shannon can, if necessary, beach herself at speed to get clear of any surf or breaking waves. She can then be recovered directly from the beach by her launch and recovery tractor. Once winched up from the beach, the tractor’s carriage revolves 180 degrees so that the lifeboat is repositioned, ready to be relaunched.

Rodney Burge, Lifeboat Operations Manager and former Coxswain at RNLI Amble, says: ‘We have all been very impressed with the Shannon – it’s a completely new concept in lifeboating. When I started volunteering with the RNLI 45 years ago, we had a Watson class lifeboat that had a top speed of around 7 knots and no radar. This boat is more than three times as fast but still feels incredibly smooth in the water, even at top speed.’