'You'd take this boat twice on a Sunday': The crew give their view on the Shannon class lifeboat

Our latest all-weather lifeboat, the Shannon, is coming up to its 3rd birthday. As we prepare to light the candles, we talk to crews about how they’re finding their new lifeboat.

'You'd take this boat twice on a Sunday': The crew give their view on the Shannon class lifeboat

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Built for speed

Flat out, two 650hp Scania engines can power the Shannon several knots faster than the lifeboats it’s replacing - the Mersey and the Tyne. And at 25 knots, it can match our other all-weather lifeboats, the Severn, Tamar and Trent.

The Shannon at Hoylake Lifeboat Station on a training exercise

Photo: Martin Fish

The Shannon at Hoylake Lifeboat Station on a training exercise

When the crew of Hoylake’s Shannon had to get to Liverpool Pierhead urgently for a search-and-rescue, their extra speed gave them options.

The lifeboat had to negotiate a sandbank between the lifeboat station and the River Mersey. ‘There are times when you can’t get through and have to take the longer way round,’ says Hoylake’s Andy Dodd. ‘But because of our speed, we were able to avoid the main channel and get up there more quickly.’

Hoylake Coxswain/Mechanic Andy Dodd
Hoylake Coxswain/Mechanic Andy Dodd

As the crew of Lough Swilly lifeboat launched into the night to three people who were missing after a fishing trip from Malin Head, they had several miles to cover to get to the search area. ‘In the Tyne we used to be able to get to there in an hour and 10 minutes,’ says Coxswain Mark Barnett. ‘With the Shannon, it took around 40 minutes.’

Time is critical during a rescue, and it’s not just the Shannon’s speed through the water that makes a difference - it’s quick to launch too. When Coxswain Steve Hockings-Thompson and his Exmouth crew rescued four people from a sinking powerboat, they used the Shannon’s bespoke launching carriage to get on the water in minutes.

Faster launching is one thing, but the Shannon’s launch and recovery system really comes into its own after a rescue. ‘We pull the lifeboat off the beach onto the carriage,’ says Exmouth Mechanic Andy Williams, ‘then spin the carriage round, and pull it back into its locked position. The boat’s ready for launch again in around 15 minutes.’

Recovery of Hoylake’s Shannon

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Recovery of Hoylake’s Shannon

The launch and recovery system is versatile enough to work on the toughest beach terrain. ‘We’re on an estuary and the sandbanks are constantly moving and changing,’ says Andy Williams from Exmouth. ‘On an extremely low tide, when it’s too shallow to launch, we just drive the carriage to our alternative site.’

Keeping our crews safe

Carriage launches are not only quicker but, thanks to the Shannon’s launch and recovery system, also simpler.

Andy Williams, as Station Mechanic, has one of six seats onboard Exmouth’s all-weather lifeboat. He says: ‘The launch and recovery system makes it a lot quicker, safer for the crew, and smoother. It has a single sea-catch release instead of quarter chains on the side of the boat like we used to have. The sea-catch release is controlled by the coxswain. When he’s ready and we’re deep enough, he presses the button and off we go - with all the crew members safely in their seats.’

The shock absorbing seats are an important safety feature in their own right. Although the Shannon’s hull has been designed to reduce slamming in rough weather, the movement over the water can still potentially knock crew members off their feet.

The Shannon’s systems information management system (or SIMS) - which enables the crew to monitor and control the boat’s communication, navigation, engine, transmission, fuel and bilge systems from the safety of their seats - was designed with this in mind.

Radar screen onboard the Exmouth Shannon

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Radar screen onboard the Exmouth Shannon

After finding four casualties in the water, the priority for Exmouth lifeboat crew was to get them out as quickly as possible. Previously, this would have meant deploying a scramble net over the side of their boat. To minimise the risk of injury, the scramble net on the Shannon has been replaced with a deck-mounted A frame, which swings out over the side.

‘We put a strop on the A frame which goes around the casualty,’ says Andy, ‘under their arms, and up in front of them. We winch them out of the water and pull them onto the deck. There’s no manual handling involved.’

‘Everything about the Shannon is user friendly,’ says Hoylake’s Andy Dodd. ‘Take the cooling seawater intakes. If the port one gets blocked you can cross connect them and run everything on the starboard side.

‘She’s also good to work on. I’m quite a tall guy so there’s not a lot of head height. But there is lots of space around the jets and engines.’

Lough Swilly’s Mark Barnett agrees. ‘The visibility from the wheelhouse is second to none. The air conditioning unit creates a pleasant working environment. And it’s much quieter than the Tyne. You’d take this boat any day of the week, and twice on Sunday!’

Lough Swilly’s Mark Barnett
Lough Swilly’s Mark Barnett

A first in manoeuvrability

The Shannon runs on waterjets instead of propellers. As well as providing raw power, waterjets also make the boat very agile, giving the coxswain greater control.

This proved useful when Hoylake was called to attend to a 24m fishing vessel with engine failure, 38 miles out in the Irish Sea. Andy Dodd recalls: ‘The vessel weighed 200 tonnes. We hadn’t pulled anything that big with the Shannon before. We held station right under the bow while the tow ropes were passed. We were able to move the stern to port and starboard, move closer and move away using the waterjets. That gives the lads on deck more time.

‘With our tow established, at 1,500 rpm, 70 litres of fuel per hour and pulling at 5-6 knots, the lifeboat didn’t bat an eyelid. The Shannon makes everything very easy.’

The boat’s agility also proved key during the search of Liverpool Pierhead: ‘Once there, we were able to stand just 1-2m off, so we could shine a light and search the whole area. We controlled the boat using the throttles and bucket controls. You could write your name with her in the sea – she’s that manoeuvrable!’

Shannon class lifeboats have already rescued 290 people and saved 10 lives. But the 13 Shannons in service and in the relief fleet are only the start. We plan to build another 36 boats by 2021. With each boat costing £2.2M, they’re a substantial investment, and we rely on the generosity of our supporters to fund them.

Please donate today and help fund the RNLI's lifesaving work.

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