Caring for our lifeboat stations

Our lifeboat stations protect and launch our lifeboats and house our crews, and so play a crucial part in our lifesaving service.

Lizard tamar class lifeboat inside the new boathouse

RNLI / Nathan Williams

The Lizard RNLI’s Tamar class lifeboat, Rose 16-20, on the slipway inside the station’s new boathouse

Every lifeboat station has different needs depending on its location and without the right shore facilities, our lifeboat crews cannot operate effectively.

'Our stations must provide safe and secure housing for the lifeboat rig that’s ready to go 24/7; an operational and training base for the volunteer crew and helpers; a refuge for survivors and their friends and relations; and they must also act as an educational and fundraising shop window for the RNLI. They need to do all of this in an exposed and hostile environment and within strict budget controls.

Our lifeboat buildings and structures must be practical, versatile and tough enough to take a pounding. 

A huge wave breaking over the headland at Sennen Cove during a storm with the lifeboat station in the foreground

Buildings, such as boathouses, are designed for a life of 30 years with minimum maintenance, and civil engineering structures, such as slipways and pontoons, for 50 years. But with a good maintenance and repair programme, we can extend the operational lives of our lifeboat stations to up to 100 years.

The sea's relentless power inevitably leads to a need for repairs. But our high and sustainable design standards and rigorous triennial planned maintenance programme called Shoreworks minimises the risk of disruption to our search and rescue service.

About Shoreworks

Shoreworks is the name given to our continuous programme of lifeboat station maintenance, modernisation and new building works.

This programme accounts for a major portion of the work undertaken by our Estates Team, under the team’s overall remit of ensuring that all RNLI buildings are well designed and maintained.

The team commissions studies and designs and manages the procurement of facilities using external designers, contractors and specialist sub-contractors.

Our buildings and facilities include:

So there is always an active programme of construction work in hand.

Building a new lifeboat station presents major civil engineering and building challenges and raises huge logistical and technical difficulties.

Construction of any building with its feet in the sea, and exposure to the forces of wind and wave, is a challenging and high-risk enterprise. Design standards have to be top class as boathouses and structures are built to last for up to 100 years in locations that are often remote, exposed or in areas of special status

Howard Richings
Former Head of Estates Management at the RNLI


Our Estates Team oversee the whole process, from feasibility, through design, planning and right down to the nuts and bolts.

Sustainability is at the forefront of all our projects and when new lifeboat stations and other sites are built, we endeavour to use sustainable building materials and install the most suitable and cost-effective renewable technologies as standard.

Aerial shot of the new lifeboat station being built at Porthdinllaen in March 2013

Fulfilling the needs of a lifeboat station

The type of lifeboat station and the facilities required to house or moor lifeboats varies significantly according to the class of lifeboat allocated to a station.

Slipways are essential to the launch and recovery of our lifeboats in locations where there is no safe access to deep water. With modern lifeboats weighing in at over 30 tonnes, slipways have to be designed to withstand these loadings and survive the rigours of the environment.

Carriage-launched lifeboats require a boathouse large enough to accommodate the lifeboat’s launch and recovery rig and tractor.

Inshore lifeboats require smaller boathouses, and lifeboats that are moored afloat need pontoon berths with power, water and refuelling facilities, as well as additional protection in the form of wave screens or breakwaters.

Supporting crew facilities are fundamental to all stations and include:

  • changing room
  • training and crew room
  • workshop
  • communications and administration offices
  • and various storage facilities including petrol stores or diesel tanks.

Porthdinllaen RNLI’s Tamar class lifeboat, John D Spicer 16-24, launching down the slipway of the new lifeboat station in March 2015

Location, location, location

Our lifeboat stations often have to be built in very exposed locations and with restricted land access.

Wherever practical, standard designs and specifications are used to keep costs down. But the demanding physical characteristics of many of our lifeboat station locations and the environmental and planning restrictions that apply inevitably means that plans have to be customised, resulting in unique designs, architecture and construction techniques.

The sensitive nature of some lifeboat station sites, whether they be listed buildings or in designated conservation areas, can result in protracted, and sometimes controversial, planning processes.

And this all forms part of the behind-the-scenes activity that goes into the building and maintenance of our lifeboat stations.

Meeting the costs

Changes to lifeboat cover, new classes of lifeboats and the needs of our volunteer crews lead to improvements, and even rebuilds, of our lifeboat stations. And so we continually review our supporting infrastructure to keep pace with the coastal ebb and flow.

We generally have around 125 projects ongoing at any one time dedicated to the upkeep and maintenance of our lifeboat stations and other properties to ensure they’re kept fit for use for as long as possible. We complete approximately 25 of them each year and these works account for some 10% of the RNLI's £177.3M annual running costs.

But we can’t do it without your support – your donations are vital in meeting these lifesaving costs.

See some of our station projects here.