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Give it a go: Lifeboat spotting

Love lifeboats? Looking for a new challenge that will get you out and about? Then try lifeboat spotting. Anorak optional!

Rhyl Shannon class lifeboat

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Rhyl's Shannon class lifeboat, Anthony Kenneth Heard

There are few things as impressive as seeing a lifeboat in action, out on a shout or taking part in a training exercise. So what better way to witness these fantastic lifesaving vessels than by taking up lifeboat spotting?

There are nine different classes currently on service across the UK and Ireland, so it’ll be a real challenge to spot them all. Let’s get some advice from an expert, Peter Woolhouse, Chair of the Lifeboat Enthusiasts’ Society.

Start with your nearest lifeboat station

With 238 lifeboat stations dotted around the coast and inland, chances are you are never too far away from a lifeboat station.

‘To discover which stations are near you, use the RNLI’s find my nearest feature,’ says Peter. ‘Simply enter in your location or postcode, and you’ll be presented with a handy map.’

Torbay's Severn class lifeboat

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Spotted: Torbay's Severn class lifeboat

Identify the lifeboats

Telling the difference between the classes of lifeboat can be a challenge, especially from a distance. The number on the side of the boat tells you a lifeboat’s class, but it’s not always visible. See your spotting card opposite for the numbers.

‘Most lifeboat stations have an information board outside, to help identify the lifeboat,’ explains Peter. ‘There may also be someone inside who can provide more information.

‘I find the volunteers are generally happy to talk, although if they’re in the middle of a job, they might not want to be interrupted.’

See them in action

To get the full experience, see the lifeboats in action. While you may be lucky enough to witness a lifeboat launching on a shout, you have a better chance if you go down to the station during a training exercise.

Check the station’s website or Facebook page to see if they have posted when they are next having an exercise or an open day. If you can’t find the information there, don’t be afraid to call or email and ask.

Bembridge's Tamar class lifeboat

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Bembridge Lifeboat Station's Tamar class, Alfred Albert Williams

Take the spotter’s kit

You might want to bring some binoculars or a camera with a good zoom lens. You could also take pen and paper to make a note of the lifeboat’s name and number for further research.

Become an enthusiast

If spotting a few lifeboats stirs up something hitherto dormant inside, then maybe you were a lifeboat enthusiast all along and just didn’t realise it.

‘I became an RNLI Shoreline member in 1972 and it’s just gone on from there,’ recalls Peter. ‘I later joined my local fundraising branch and was involved with the Historic Lifeboat Collection in Chatham. When the founder of the Lifeboat Enthusiasts’ Society John Francis retired, I became chair.’

To find out more, go to You can order a handbook to help with your lifeboat spotting.

Portsmouth's D class lifeboat

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Spotted: Portsmouth's D class lifeboat

Make magical memories

‘Some years ago, a small group of volunteers from the Historic Lifeboat Collection at Chatham were visiting the north east of England,’ says Peter. ‘We were checking out of our hotel in Seahouses on the last morning when the lifeboat maroons went off! So we all dumped our luggage and hoofed it down to the harbour, to see the Mersey class lifeboat launch on service – the ultimate spotter’s experience.’ 

Hovercraft at New Brighton

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

A rare sighting around our coasts: an RNLI hovercraft

Rare sightings

Hovercraft: You can spot RNLI hovercraft on service in Hoylake, Southend, Morecambe and Hunstanton.

E class: The largest of our inshore lifeboats can be found on the Thames. Spot them at Tower and Chiswick.

Rescue watercraft: More commonly seen on lifeguarded beaches, spot the rarer lifeboat versions at Enniskillen.

Historic lifeboats: For serious spotting, visit a lifeboat museum. Try the Henry Blogg Museum, Cromer, and the RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection, Chatham.

To start your lifeboat spotting, find a station near you.