This month marks the 90th Anniversary of Lerwick Lifeboat, with the arrival of the first lifeboat, the 'Lady Jane and Martha Ryland' to Lerwick harbour in July 1930.
Since 1930, four lifeboats in total have served at Lerwick Lifeboat station, including the current Severn-class all-weather lifeboat
Michael and Jane Vernon, which has been in service since 1997.
The Lady Jane and Martha Ryland was a 51ft ‘Barnett-class’ lifeboat presented by the Duke of Montrose, Vice President of the RNLI, at an Inaugural Ceremony on 25th June 1932. The vessel was named by the Duchess of Montrose, as a crowd of over 2,000 people looked on in Lerwick harbour. With two 60-horsepower petrol engines, and a top-speed of just under nine knots, the Barnett-class was the most powerful RNLI lifeboat in production at the time.
By 1930, a decision to establish a lifeboat station in Lerwick had already been made, but two recent shipwrecks had highlighted the need for a lifeboat in Shetland.
On 29th March 1930, the fishing trawler Ben Doran foundered on Ve Skerries. Despite efforts by local boats to reach the stricken vessel in gales and heavy seas, nine lives were lost. The nearest lifeboat in Stromness had also been called to assist, making a return journey of around 260 miles and 55 hours away from her own station in Orkney.
On 10th April 1930, the passenger vessel St Sunniva ran aground on Mousa in thick fog. All forty or so passengers and crew were safely landed from vessel but not before the Stromness lifeboat had already launched. Without any radio communication, the lifeboat crew had no way of knowing that they were no longer needed and arrived at Mousa around 12 hours later. Persistent fog delayed the lifeboat’s return journey, making it back to Orkney some 36 hours after leaving and with a round-trip of 240 miles.
The loss of the Ben Doran prompted calls for another lifeboat station on the west-side of Shetland and the Aith Lifeboat station was also established in 1933.
Another Barnett-class lifeboat (Mk II) - the Claude Cecil Staniforth - arrived in Lerwick in 1958 and was in service for 20 years until 1978. Then Arun-class lifeboat
Soldian served from 1978 until 1997, when the current Severn-class Michael and Jane Vernon took up service.
The 17-metre (56 feet) Severn-class all-weather lifeboat is largest and most powerful in the RNLI’s fleet, with two “MTU” engines that produce up to 1600 horsepower, a top speed of 25 knots and a range of 250 nautical miles. The fibreglass reinforced composite hull and self-righting capability means that the vessel can undertake long searches in the very worst of sea conditions.
Over the years, the volunteer crew of Lerwick Lifeboat have been involved in many rescues, saving over 800 lives. Their service has been recognised with 62 RNLI Gallantry Awards, including the most recent RNLI Gold Medal awarded to Coxswain/Mechanic Hewitt Clark for the rescue of five crew of the Green Lily off Bressay in November 1997.
Lifeboat Operations Manager, Malcolm Craigie said "There's a lot of maritime activity around the coast of Shetland and Lerwick Lifeboat has been involved in several high profile rescues over the years. Our volunteer crew are always available to help save lives at sea, whenever we're needed, and there many people in our island community who have connections to Lerwick Lifeboat, past and present.
“The RNLI has provided four lifeboats over the last 90 years, the costs of which have been entirely met by donations. We're grateful to all those in Shetland and elsewhere who have helped fund our lifeboat – and we hope that they'll continue to do so for the next 90 years."
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 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.
Learn more about the RNLI
For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.
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.