Echoes of the past as Walton and Frinton RNLI assist broken down ex-lifeboat

Lifeboats News Release

Volunteer crew members were left with a wry smile on their faces when they launched to the aid of a distressed sailor – and arrived to find an old RNLI lifeboat!

The crew were requested to launch by the UK Coastguard at 5.30am on Thursday 6 April to assist a man in a motorboat whose engines had failed and had hit a sandbank at Long Sand Head.

The crew arrived on scene but were surprised to find the 47ft vessel ‘Sarah’ was an old Watson class RNLI lifeboat - bizarrely, the very same class of lifeboat which had been stationed at Walton and Frinton from 1953 until 1977.

The lifeboat, which was named Sara Townsend Porritt during her RNLI service, had been decommissioned from the RNLI fleet in 1982 and sold to a private buyer the same year.

Walton and Frinton RNLI mechanic, Karl Bigwood, said: ‘We got the call and launched our Tamar class lifeboat, Irene Muriel Rees, at 5.50am, and were told en-route there was one man onboard a vessel which had broken down and was bashing on and off the sandbank which had been exposed at low tide.

‘We arrived on scene at 6.25am and could not believe our eyes when we spotted it was one of the RNLI’s very own ex-lifeboats!’

The volunteer crew found the sailor, in his 70s, had made it clear of the sandbank but was disorientated and unsure of his position. His engines had also stopped, leaving him at the mercy of the wind and tide. The man said he was tired and suffering fatigue, so the lifeboat crew established a tow line and towed him to safety at the port of Harwich, where he was met by a local Coastguard Rescue Team at 8.20am.

The crew established the man had purchased the old lifeboat in Newcastle and was sailing it clockwise around the coast to Penzance.

Karl continued: ‘We had a Watson class lifeboat right here at Walton and Frinton, so it was slightly odd to be rescuing one – a real echo from the past. We obviously knew she was a pretty strong boat, as all our lifeboats are, so she was not in danger of breaking up. But still, it was pretty old and the chap was quite concerned so we were happy to help.’

The lifeboat had been brought into RNLI service in 1951 and was stationed at Lytham St Annes RNLI in Lancashire until 1978. She then joined the RNLI’s relief lifeboat fleet until she was stood down from service in 1982.

The RNLI remains a charity that relies almost entirely on voluntary contributions to fund its lifesaving work. It’s annual Mayday fundraising campaign takes place throughout May, with fundraising events taking place across the UK and Ireland. This year, the RNLI hopes to raise £750,000 through Mayday, which will be used to fund essential kit for the charity’s brave volunteer lifeboat crews.

The RNLI is asking people to ‘do your bit, fund our kit’ this Mayday and anyone who wishes to get involved should visit to register for a free Mayday pack. The pack provides fundraising ideas, such as wearing wellies to work, doing a sponsored welly walk or cycle ride, or holding a bake sale.

RNLI media contacts

  • Tim Ash, RNLI Public Relations Manager (London/East/South East) on 0207 6207426, 07785 296252

  • Paul Dunt, RNLI Press Officer (London/East/South East) on 0207 6207416, 07786 668825,

  • For enquiries outside normal business hours, contact the RNLI duty press officer on 01202 336789

Ex-RNLI Watson class lifeboat 'Sarah' docked in Harwich after the rescue

RNLI/Walton and Frinton

Ex-RNLI Watson class lifeboat 'Sarah' docked in Harwich after the rescue.
Walton and Frinton RNLI towing the old Watson class lifeboat.

RNLI/Walton and Frinton

Walton and Frinton RNLI towing the old Watson class lifeboat.

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.