The sometimes strange, often wonderful, world of lifeboat names

It’s the Peterborough Beer Festival who lent their name to four lifeboats! Did you get it right? 
RNLI Swanage lifeboat George Thomas Lacy

Photo: Andy Lyons

There is a long tradition of giving a name to a boat. The exact reasons why are unclear, but the consensus seems to be that it’s a way to identify a boat without resorting to number plates or identity codes. For a long time, the tradition was to give a boat a female name. Again, the exact reason why is unclear, although some say it’s to do with fertility and protection.

For the RNLI, the naming of a lifeboat has been important since the charity began in 1824, with the first recorded ‘Ceremony of Naming’ taking place in 1855. Naming ceremonies continue to this day, offering an excellent chance for local communities to come out and celebrate their new lifeboat.

But when it comes to the actual name of a lifeboat, it seems all the rules go out the window. With no recorded restrictions on what a lifeboat can be named, it could be anything. 

Never Fear, Baggy’s Here

Kinsale’s Atlantic 75 B class lifeboat Miss Sally Anne Baggy

Photo: RNLI/Nicholas Leach

Kinsale’s Atlantic 75 B class lifeboat Miss Sally Anne Baggy

The volunteers at Kinsale Lifeboat Station have a lot to thank Sally Anne Odell for. A big figure in the local community, Sally Anne was a lifelong supporter of the RNLI and donated money towards the station’s Atlantic 75 B class lifeboat Miss Sally Anne Baggy. The lifeboat was involved in many high-profile rescues in its 15-year service, saving countless lives.

When she passed away in 2017, Sally left a gift in her Will that would fund the lifeboat’s replacement, the Atlantic 85 Miss Sally Anne Baggy II – Never Fear, Baggy’s Here. What makes these two lifeboats unusual is the reason behind the word ‘baggy’ – it comes from Sally’s colostomy bag.

Powered by diesel, funded by beer

It’s not just coastal communities who support lifeboats. There are many fundraising groups based further inland who come together to raise money for the RNLI. There have been lifeboats named after Birmingham, Leicester, Leeds and Bradford. Telford Shopping Centre was a D class lifeboat on station in Troon from 2007 to 2018. It rescued over 100 people.

Peterborough Beer Festival IV battles through the waves

Photo: Martin Fish

Peterborough Beer Festival IV battles through the waves

One of the more prolific and surprising supporters of the RNLI has been the Peterborough Beer Festival, which has helped fund four lifeboats and counting. The latest, Peterborough Beer Festival IV was a D class lifeboat on service in Skegness. Its predecessor, B class lifeboat Peterborough Beer Festival III, is now part of our relief fleet

How many other lifeboats can say they are beer-powered? 

Lincolnshire Poacher

Creamy, mature, full-flavoured. Not the words you’d normally use to describe a lifeboat. But then again, not all lifeboats are named after cheeses! Lincolnshire Poacher is a Mersey class lifeboat that first went on service in Skegness in 1990.

The Lincolnshire Poacher, which first went on service in Skegness in 1990

Photo: Mike Irving

The Lincolnshire Poacher, which first went on service in Skegness in 1990

The lifeboat tackled a number of difficult rescues, including the rescue of a disabled yacht on 11 April 1998. The lifeboat launched into gale force 8 winds, heavy showers and a very rough sea as it battled its way through the elements to reach the yacht Sea Fever. Unable to contact the lone sailor on the yacht, Coxswain Paul Martin decided that they would have to transfer a crew member across. 

After five attempts, they managed to get crew member David Sellers onto the yacht. Exhausted and suffering from extreme seasickness, the sailor was thankfully uninjured by the ordeal. A tow line was secured and the yacht was taken to Grimsby. For his role in this dramatic rescue, Paul Martin received the Thanks of the Institution on Vellum.

Read the original write-up of the rescue over at the lifeboat magazine archive.

James Stevens

The name James Stevens probably doesn’t mean much to you. And in fact, looking back through the RNLI’s archives, we don’t have much information on him apart from his name. What we do know is that when he died on 12 June 1893, he left a gift of £50,000 to the RNLI in his Will. In today’s money, that would be an incredible £6 million pounds, one of the largest ever donations by a single donor.

Grimsby’s steam class lifeboat James Stevens No. 3

Photo: Barry Crawshaw

Grimsby’s steam class lifeboat James Stevens No. 3

While we may not know much about the man or the reasons why he left such a generous gift in his Will, we do know about the lifeboats that shared his name. A total of 20 were built using his legacy, each bearing his name. For 37 years, James Stevens lifeboats were on station across the UK and Ireland, taking part in a vast number of rescues, some even earning their crews Bronze and Silver Medals. In total, 1,072 lives were saved by lifeboats named after him. 

So why put your name on a lifeboat?

There’s a famous Japanese film by legendary director Akira Kurosawa called Ikiru. In the film, a civil servant learns that he has a terminal illness. After suffering a crisis of conscience, he decides he wants to do something good for the world before he passes away and builds a playground so the children in his neighbourhood have somewhere to play. An act that will provide joy to children long after he has passed away.

Apart from the companies, TV programs, cheeses and beer festivals, many lifeboats are named after people. There can be many reasons to have a lifeboat named after yourself or a loved one. To celebrate your love for the RNLI and the sea. To commemorate your time volunteering for the charity. Whatever the reason, there must be some sense of pride knowing that your name will be on the side of a lifeboat. 

And there will be people out there, complete strangers, who will find themselves in desperate need of rescue. In their darkest moment, they will look up and see the lifeboat you’ve helped fund come to their rescue. They may not remember the name on the side of the boat. But they will be alive and safe thanks to something bearing your name. 

Trent class lifeboat, Jim Moffat

Photo: RNLI/Martin Fish

Every pound donated to the RNLI helps us save lives. So thank you for supporting us – our lifeboats, our lifesavers and our lifesaving work. If you want to find out more about how you can leave a gift in your Will that saves lives, visit RNLI.org/legacy.

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