Lifesaving charity celebrates five years since its newest lifeboat
This week, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is celebrating five years since the first Shannon class lifeboat was introduced to the RNLI fleet.
Designed by the charity’s own team of engineers, the £2.2M Shannon class lifeboat is the first modern all-weather lifeboat to be propelled by water jets rather than propellers.
Waterjets allow the Shannon to operate in shallow waters and be intentionally beached. And when precision really matters, such as operating alongside a stricken vessel or navigating around hazards, they come into their own.
At maximum power, the Shannon lifeboat pumps 1.5 tonnes of water each second from her waterjets.
'The manoeuvrability of a jet-driven boat is phenomenal – it really has to be seen to be believed. The launch and recovery equipment helps us get safely back to shore, no matter what the conditions,' said Trevor Bunney, Dungeness RNLI Mechanic.
The first Shannon was the Jock and Annie Slater, which joined the fleet after an official ceremony at RNLI headquarters in Poole on 11 July 2013. Since then, 28 Shannon class lifeboats have been made.
Over the past five years, Shannon class lifeboats have launched 703 times on service, rescuing 876 people and saving 17 lives.
Surprisingly, the Shannon began rescuing people even before it was officially introduced to the fleet! The very first time a Shannon launched on service was on 10 July 2012, when a Shannon on trial was diverted to search for a report of a person in water.
The first launch of a Shannon from a lifeboat station was on 14 March 2014 from Dungeness, the first station to receive a Shannon. The crew were called out to a fishing vessel with steering failure.
The process of creating a new all-weather lifeboat began back in 2005. An early ‘off-the-shelf’ boat design from an outside company underwent sea trials but it was found that the crews were subject to too much impact in rough weather.
The RNLI went back to the drawing board and used in-house engineers to create a design that would minimise this. RNLI Naval Architect Peter Eyre, only 24 years old at the time, came up with a hull shape that that was carefully optimised to reduce the risk of both vertical and sideways slamming forces.
The resulting hull features a narrow bow designed to cut through the water which is counteracted by very wide aft sections that help keep the boat steady and upright. It cuts through the waves while remaining stable in rough conditions.
Inside the boat, an improved Systems and Information Management System (SIMS) allows the crew to operate and monitor many of the lifeboat's functions from the safety of their seats, using ‘trackball pods’ in their arm rests. The system is weather-proof and the control buttons have been specially designed so that crew wearing gloves can still use them.
Shock-absorbing seats further protect the crew from impact when powering through the waves. And as with all RNLI all-weather lifeboats, the Shannon class is designed to be inherently self-righting, returning to an upright position in the event of capsize.
Measuring just over 13m in length and weighing in at 18 tonnes, the Shannon is the smallest and lightest all-weather lifeboat, meaning she can be launched straight off the beach via a new and improved launch and recovery system.
Designed in conjunction with Supacat Ltd, the new tractor-borne carriage allows a faster and safer launch and recovery time than the present Mersey system. It operates as a mobile slipway, which solves the unique challenge of transporting, launching and recovering the Shannon lifeboat over some of the most demanding beaches.
After being recovered from the beach bow first, a turntable in the carriage rotates the Shannon 180º ready for her next launch. Meaning casualties can be reached sooner and our volunteer launching crews are better protected.
The RNLI aims for its lifeboats to reach at least 90% of all casualties within 10 nautical miles of the coast within 30 minutes of launch in all weathers. In the vast majority of cases, this is achieved. However, the Shannon class will help the RNLI to better meet this target as it is capable of operating at 25 knots and will replace a selection of Mersey and some Tyne class lifeboats, which operate a slower top speed.
Two 650hp Scania engines power the Shannon. It only needs 80% of its power to reach its top speed, meaning the engines don’t have to work so hard and should last longer.
Each engine has its own 1,370-litre fuel tank which can be refuelled at a rate of 200 litres a minute, meaning the lifeboat will never be out of action for long.
The RNLI’s long-term aim is to make sure the entire lifeboat fleet is capable of 25 knots. That means it will require at least 50 new Shannon class lifeboats.
To make this happen, the RNLI constructed a brand new All-weather Lifeboat Centre (ALC) at its headquarters in Poole, Dorset. Six Shannons are made here every year and other lifeboats come in for repair and maintenance work.
Daniel Sharp, RNLI Manufacturing Manager for the All-weather Lifeboat Centre, said, ‘It’s fantastic to have been involved in the Shannon class lifeboat since its conception, through its development phase, and now on to having 26 Shannons in the fleet. I’m looking forward to seeing the Shannon fleet completed.’
The facility brings every stage of the lifeboat building process in-house and under one roof, ensuring that we are fully equipped to build the next generation of all-weather lifeboats.
It gives the RNLI greater control of costs and quality, and it creates employment, including apprenticeships in marine engineering and boatbuilding.
The RNLI also worked hard to make sure the Shannon is as cost efficient as possible, without compromising on safety and quality. Savings have primarily been made due to the size and weight of the boat. Less material is used to build the Shannon and smaller and less costly engines are needed to power the lighter boat.
Further savings have been made through streamlining the build process; from ensuring that the mould is smooth to reduce the work needed to prepare the boat to be painted, to reducing the installation time of the electrics by ordering cables in looms and not as individual lengths.
Although each Shannon class lifeboat is expected to have an operational lifetime of 25 years, the life expectancy of the Shannon's hull and wheelhouse is 50 years.
So after 25 years of service, each Shannon lifeboat will undergo a total refit where the machinery, systems and equipment will be renewed or replaced and the hull and wheelhouse reused – creating a new Shannon class lifeboat ready to save lives at sea for a further 25 years.
The naming of our Shannon class lifeboat follows a tradition of naming lifeboats after rivers. But it's the first time an Irish river has been chosen.
Lifeboat Stations with Shannons:
Lytham St Annes
Lifeboat Stations expecting a Shannon in 2018/2019:
Notes to editors
For more information please contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.
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 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.