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Relief Shannons make it business as usual

If any of our Shannon lifeboats has to go off service, our crews are pretty relaxed about it. They know they’ll get a like-for-like replacement until their lifeboat comes back.

Relief Shannon class lifeboat Jock and Annie Slater 13-01 at Hoylake

Photo: Martin Fish

Relief Shannon class lifeboat Jock and Annie Slater 13-01 at Hoylake

Designed and built by our own teams of engineers and boat builders, the Shannon is our latest all-weather lifeboat. It’s also our most agile, manoeuvrable and safest all-weather lifeboat yet.

'The manoeuvrability of a jet-driven boat is phenomenal – it really has to be seen to be believed,’ says Trevor Bunney, Dungeness Lifeboat Station Mechanic. ‘The launch and recovery equipment helps us get safely back to shore, no matter what the conditions.'

We have around 30 Shannon lifeboats in the fleet, and we’re adding more all the time. Our boatbuilders at the All-weather Lifeboat Centre in Poole are producing six new lifeboats every year.

Lowestoft’s Shannon lifeboat in rough weather

Photo: RNLI/Stephen Duncombe

Lowestoft’s Shannon lifeboat in rough weather

Strategic relief

Last year, RNLI lifeboats were called out 22 times a day. The lifeboats themselves are designed to handle the harshest of conditions. As you’d expect, there are times when we have to take boats out of service – either for essential maintenance, repair or equipment upgrades. Our relief fleet gives us the flexibility to deploy replacement lifeboats, whenever and wherever they’re needed.

Standing by at strategic locations around the UK and Ireland, our relief lifeboats are ready to step in and take over the duties of a station lifeboat at a moment’s notice. They include a small, but growing, number of Shannon all-weather lifeboats. There are currently seven Shannons in the relief fleet – about a fifth of our total all-weather relief fleet. And it’s vital that we expand the relief fleet to keep pace with the new Shannon lifeboats that we’re building.

Business as usual

The crew at Hoylake Lifeboat Station have been operating Shannon class Edmund Hawthorn Micklewood for the past 4 years. Coxswain/Mechanic Andy Dodd has taken charge of relief lifeboats on a few occasions. He says: ‘The beauty of having the relief fleet to cover maintenance or repair is that all the boats are pretty much identical. The relief boat arrives and we can take it straight into service. With our previous lifeboat, the Mersey, a relief boat wouldn’t necessarily fit on the same carriage – you always had to do adjustments. With the Shannon, there are no adjustments to be made. It really is very smooth. 

‘The lifeboats have to be kept in tip-top condition so planned maintenance is an important part of that. We welcome having relief lifeboats. Whenever we get one, it’s business as usual.

Hoylake Coxswain/Mechanic Andy Dodd

Photo: Nicholas Leach

Hoylake Coxswain/Mechanic Andy Dodd

We’re currently upgrading the control system of the waterjets on our early Shannons. The relief Shannons are vital in plugging gaps on the coast while we carry this essential work out.

Our lifeboats launch thousands of times every year, and in all weathers, so it’s inevitable that unscheduled repairs are needed. One of the first deployments for the relief lifeboat Reg was to Lowestoft Lifeboat Station. 

Station Coxswain John Fox explains: ‘We had a problem with the fuel tanks on our lifeboat Patsy Knight. I picked Reg up, steamed it home and took our boat back to the boat yard. Later, we brought Reg back to Poole in time for its naming ceremony.'

Lowestoft Coxswain/Mechanic John Fox

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Lowestoft Coxswain/Mechanic John Fox

‘We treat it as our own’

Deploying relief Shannons at the coast is all in a day’s work for our crews. ‘When we needed a relief boat at Hoylake earlier this year, we took ours up to Fleetwood Marina,’ says Andy. ‘We swapped the medical equipment and charts over, then helped launch the relief boat Reg before putting our boat on the slings for its road trip back to Poole. When the work was finished, we drove up to Fleetwood Marina to collect it. Reg stayed on station with a second crew to maintain cover until we got back with the station boat.’

Andy Dodd says: ‘We treat a relief lifeboat as if it were the station lifeboat. We clean it, wash it and hoover it, just as we would our own.'

One of our relief Shannons, Reg, in our All-Weather Lifeboat Centre

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

One of our relief Shannons, Reg, in our All-Weather Lifeboat Centre

Added value

Relief boats don’t always replace station boats – sometimes they work alongside. When Hoylake Lifeboat Station’s new Shannon lifeboat arrived in November 2014, the relief boat Jock and Annie Slater joined it for 2 weeks of intensive crew training – a welcome opportunity for crews to put the new lifeboat through its paces in home waters.

With relief lifeboats regularly on the move, to, from or between lifeboat stations, crews can benefit in other ways too. ‘Occasionally we get to take a relief Shannon on a short sea passage,’ says Andy Dodd. ‘This gives an opportunity for navigators to do passage planning, helms/coxswains to spend extended periods on the bridge and radar observers to experience different types of marine traffic than they’re used to.’ Unsurprisingly, while it’s not always cost effective to transport lifeboats over long distances by sea, short sea passages are very popular with crews.

John Fox agrees: ‘It’s good to pick a boat up and bring it home by sea. You get to run the boat and try all the kit onboard. Also, it’s excellent for crew training. Lowestoft to Poole takes a day – so that’s good experience for the crew.’

What you can do

Help us build a new Shannon class lifeboat for our relief fleet by supporting our Christmas appeal.