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The magnificent Severn set to save lives for another 25 years

Lifeboats News Release

The RNLI has today – Tuesday 10 March 2020 – announced that it will extend the life of its Severn class lifeboats so they can continue saving lives at sea for another 25 years.

The largest and most powerful class of lifeboat, the Severn entered service back in 1996 and there are currently 44 of these 42 tonne lifesaving vessels in the charity’s fleet. With an operational lifespan of 25 years, these amazing lifeboats are now approaching retirement age and are due to come off service soon.

However, the charity’s expert in-house engineering team has worked in partnership with academic and industry experts, establishing that the lifeboats’ hulls can continue operational service for another 25 years. Through a life extension upgrade, the Severn’s wheelhouse will be completely redesigned and a wide range of upgrades will be made, ensuring the vessels can operate safely and effectively for another 25 years.

As well as fitting the lifeboats out with more modern and sophisticated technology and systems, the upgraded Severns will have significant safety enhancements to ensure the RNLI’s volunteer crews are as safe as possible while out saving lives at sea in all weathers.

Nick Fenwick is Project Manager for the RNLI’s Severn life extension programme. He said: ‘From shock-mitigating seats for the crew, to new survivor space seating for casualties and a new daughter craft that can be launched quickly for rescuing casualties in shallow waters or close to rocks, the life extension upgrades will ensure our Severn class lifeboats are ready to save lives at sea for another 25 years.

‘The upgrades will bring the technology and systems onboard the Severn class lifeboats right up to date. A key upgrade will be the installation of the Systems and Information Management System, also known as SIMS.

‘Similar to the SIMS systems in our Tamar and Shannon class lifeboats, it is an electronic integrated bridge system that allows the crew to monitor, operate and control many of the lifeboat’s functions directly from their seats. These functions include the navigation and the mechanics of the lifeboat, such as the engines, bilge and electrics. This greatly increases our crews’ safety, reducing the need for them to walk around the lifeboat in the rough and challenging sea conditions they so often face.’

An allocation of six Severn class lifeboats will be upgraded initially, with the upgrades taking place at the RNLI’s All-weather Lifeboat Centre in Poole, Dorset. Work is already underway on the first vessel to receive its life extension upgrade, with a relief fleet Severn being worked on now with the aim of undertaking sea trials at the end of the year.

The first five lifeboat stations due to receive a life extended Severn are Aberdeen, Kirkwall and Lerwick in Scotland, Tynemouth in the north east of England and Ballyglass in the Republic of Ireland. Aberdeen Lifeboat Station are due to receive the first upgraded Severn at the end of 2021.

The average anticipated cost of each life extension upgrade is £1.25M. This is significantly less than the cost of designing and building a brand-new class of lifeboat to replace the Severn. For context, a Shannon, which is significantly smaller and not as powerful as the Severn, costs £2.2M to build.

Since entering service back in 1996, Severn class lifeboats have launched over 16,500 times, going to the aid of over 22,500 people and saving over 900 lives.

Angus Watson, Engineering and Supply Director, said: ‘I am so excited to announce our plans to extend the operational life of our Severn class lifeboats.

‘Our Severns are often located in the more remote locations across the UK and Ireland, where the crews are often required to sail out longer distances in the most challenging sea conditions. Being the largest class of lifeboat, it is well-suited for locations where mass casualty rescues are more likely, and its highly elevated upper steering position and greater length are ideal when negotiating large waves in the roughest seas.

‘While the systems and technology on board the Severn class need upgrading, the lifeboat’s hull and structure is still ideally suited to the challenging conditions these lifeboats face today. So rather than spending significantly more money to roll out a brand new class of all-weather lifeboat, supplying stations with upgraded Severn class lifeboats that we know can meet the demands of these challenging stretches of coastline is a much more efficient use of charitable funds, while still ensuring that our volunteer crews have lifeboats absolutely fit for purpose for the next 25 years.’

The RNLI has launched its ‘Save our Severns’ appeal, with the aim of raising £700,000 to help fund life extension upgrades to these incredible vessels. To donate, visit:

Yarmouth RNLI's Severn class lifeboat crashing through waves from above

RNLI/Harrison Bates

Yarmouth RNLI's Severn class lifeboat
A stripped out Severn class lifeboat being worked on in the All-weather Lifeboat Centre

RNLI/Nick Cary

The first Severn class lifeboat undergoing its life extension upgrade
Two workers inside the stripped out wheelhouse of a Severn class lifeboat

RNLI/Nick Cary

Inside the stripped out wheelhouse of a Severn class lifeboat
armouth RNLI's Severn class lifeboat crashing through waves with dark clouds above it

RNLI/Nigel Millard

Yarmouth RNLI's Severn class lifeboat crashing through waves

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.