RNLI celebrates 60th anniversary of its Inshore Lifeboats

Lifeboats News Release

Introduced in 1963, the inshore lifeboat continues to be an invaluable asset in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) fleet as new figures show the charity’s Inshore lifeboats have saved 30,778* lives across 60 years.

RNLI/David Jenkins

Pictured: One of the first D class lifeboats on trial at Aberystwyth in 1963.

The inshore lifeboat has enabled the charity’s volunteer crews to carry out their lifesaving work closer to shore, in areas inaccessible to other lifeboats in the fleet. Designed to be quick and manoeuvrable, inshore lifeboats can operate in shallower water, near cliffs and rocks meaning crews can get as close as possible to those in trouble.

The RNLI’s current inshore lifeboat fleet consists of the Atlantic 85, D class, E class and the inshore rescue boat. Since joining the RNLI’s fleet in 1963 six decades ago, the charity’s inshore lifeboats have extended its lifesaving capability around the coast, aiding 154,192 people and saving 30,778 lives*.

Aberystwyth, Gorleston, Redcar and Wells were the first stations to receive inshore lifeboats. This was followed by trials at points along the coast between established lifeboat stations at: Mudeford; Southwold; West Mersea; and Whitstable. An inshore lifeboat has remained at these eight stations since this introduction in 1963.

Simon Ling, RNLI Head of Lifeboats, said:

‘For the last 60 years, inshore lifeboats have enabled our lifeboat crews to reach areas close to shore and in shallow water to rescue people in trouble. These fast and highly manoeuvrable lifesaving craft answered the need for a quicker and more agile response to rescues in areas of water that were more challenging to the larger and slower all-weather lifeboats.

A huge proportion of our lifesaving effort is undertaken less than 10 nautical miles from the shore and as such, the unique features and capabilities of our inshore lifeboats has made a huge difference to the efficiency and effectiveness of our 24/7 search and rescue service. As we move towards 200 years of lifesaving we must continue to evolve so we are fit for the future and sustain our world-class lifesaving service.’

There are currently 106 lifeboat stations which operate an Atlantic 85 lifeboat, 110 lifeboat stations which operate a D class lifeboat, two stations on the River Thames with an E class lifeboat and five stations with an inshore rescue boat.

In 2021, an Atlantic 85 lifeboat was introduced at Margate RNLI to replace its Mersey lifeboat. It operates alongside their existing D class inshore lifeboat in providing lifesaving assets catering for busy beaches with frequent tidal cut-offs, inflatable rescues, medium sized tow jobs and searches for missing water users.

Derek Amas, Volunteer Lifeboat Operations Manager at Margate RNLI lifeboat station, said: ‘Our volunteer crew at Margate have worked hard to integrate the Atlantic 85 into our lifesaving capability to work alongside the D class and continue to support the community and visitors to the area. There have been many occasions that without the D class and Atlantic 85 at Margate, some people wouldn’t be alive today.

‘When the change of lifeboat took place a couple of years ago, sadly it meant I could no longer operate in a seagoing role. But I am enjoying my new volunteering position as station manager, and we have welcomed many new people to the team at Margate. We look forward to continuing saving more lives with our lifeboats.’

Cullercoats RNLI volunteer helm, Anna Heslop, said: ‘We have an Atlantic 85 lifeboat at our station and it is an incredible craft that has helped the Cullercoats volunteers to aid and save lives since 2007. As RNLI volunteers, we receive world-class training to maintain our lifesaving and boat handling skills, including capsize training in our Sea Survival Pool.’

The RNLI builds and maintains most of its inshore lifeboats in house at their Inshore Lifeboat Centre in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. This allows the charity to have greater control over costs and quality ensuring they produce the best lifesaving asset for their crews and spend their supporters’ donations in the most efficient and effective way.

To find out more about the history of the RNLI’s inshore lifeboats, visit here.

Notes to editors:

Atlantic 85 lifeboat

  • The current generation of B class lifeboat is called the Atlantic 85 – named after the Atlantic College in Wales where these rigid inflatable lifeboats (RIBs) were first developed. 85 represents its length – nearly 8.5m. The lifeboat is both day and night capable and can operate in weather up to a Beaufort Force 7.

  • There have been three generations of B class lifeboat. The first one was the Atlantic 21, the first RIB to join the RNLI fleet. It served from 1972 until 2008.

  • The Atlantic 21 was then replaced by the Atlantic 75, which was in service from 1993 until 2022. It has now been replaced by the Atlantic 85, which was introduced to the fleet in 2005.

  • The introduction of the first rigid inflatable lifeboat (RIB) – the Atlantic 21 – into the RNLI fleet back in 1972 revolutionised lifesaving at sea.

  • The speed, manoeuvrability, agility and versatility of these RIBs dramatically improved the efficiency and effectiveness of our search and rescue service. All three generations of our Atlantic lifeboats have helped us to save thousands of lives at sea

  • When it comes to responding to a lifesaving task, the Atlantic 85 lifeboat is one of the fastest in the fleet; her top speed is 35 knots powered by two 115hp 4-stroke engines.

D class

  • With a top speed of 25 knots, the D class lifeboat can operate in both day and night with an endurance of 3 hours at sea.

  • As an inflatable inshore lifeboat, the D class is designed to operate close to shore in shallower water. Although our smallest lifeboat, the D class saves more lives than any other class of lifeboat.

  • The latest generation of D class lifeboats, known as the IB1 type, was introduced in 2003 with improved speed, manoeuvrability and equipment.

E class

  • With its powerful tidal currents, submerged debris and heavy traffic, the River Thames can be incredibly dangerous for those on and by the water and the E class lifeboat was designed to handle these river conditions.

  • Stationed at our two busiest lifeboat stations, Tower and Chiswick, the first generation of E class lifeboats – the Mk1 – was introduced into the fleet in 2002.

  • Over 21 years since its formation, Tower has saved 381 lives over its 10,000 shouts.

  • Our latest E class lifeboat is capable of a top speed of 40 knots, making her the fastest lifeboat in the RNLI fleet.

  • Waterjets give our E class lifeboat excellent manoeuvrability in the rapidly moving river flow.

  • The E class is the first modern lifeboat propelled by waterjets rather than propellers, allowing her to operate in shallow waters and giving greater control when alongside other craft and in confined waters.

RNLI media contacts

For more information please contact:

RNLI Press Office – [email protected] - 01202 336789


Sunderland RNLI volunteer with their D class lifeboat in 1966.

RNLI/Simon Parkes

The RNLI's inshore lifeboats are quick, agile and durable. Pictured is the Wells-next-the-Sea D class lifeboat Peter Wilcox

RNLI/Stephen Duncombe

The RNLI's Atlantic lifeboats look very different today compared to when they joined the fleet in 1972.

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.

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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

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