Retired lifeboats starting a second life
After our article about the last Tyne class lifeboat retiring from service at Wicklow, many of you wanted to know: what next for Annie Blaker and others?
Often lifeboats will move first to the relief fleet before then being sold. RNLI Asset Sales Manager Adrian Frogley explains how it works: ‘The sale of decommissioned lifeboats is an income stream for the charity, bringing much-needed funds back into the RNLI pot.’
Deciding when to retire a lifeboat from RNLI service is a complicated matter. Adrian says: ‘With releasing the all-weather class lifeboats, a key driver is having a 25-knot all-weather fleet. We want to reach people in trouble quicker. This means the Mersey – at 17 knots – is now being replaced typically by the faster Shannon class. We’re also taking into consideration factors such as last refit dates, cost of logistics, current condition.
‘Our inshore Atlantic 75 lifeboats are usually replaced with the Atlantic 85. Having the capabilities of that bigger boat is a real benefit to many crews. Retirement for these inshore lifeboats is also based on factors such as build and refit dates, and cost of maintenance.’
To prepare the lifeboats for sale, they have their iconic orange covered. 'We paint the superstucture a colour other than orange – usually light grey. This protects our branding and the RNLI operations.'
So once they’re ready for their new owner, where do they find themselves?
The day tripper
Rother class all-weather lifeboat The Hampshire Rose began life at Walmer Lifeboat Station in Kent. There she served the volunteer crew faithfully from 1975 to 1990, launching 132 times and saving 57 lives. After a stint in the relief fleet, she was sold. She eventually made her way to Ilfracombe in north Devon, into the hands of RNLI Helm, Mechanic and Lifeboat Trainer Assessor Stuart Carpenter!
From Ilfracombe, The Hampshire Rose operates as a private charter vessel between Easter and October – available for sightseeing, sunset and wildlife cruises out of Ilfracombe Harbour and along the striking cliff-lined coast.
Stuart says: ‘We get lots of visits from lifeboat enthusiasts and most crew members who visit Ilfracombe either come on the boat or come to say hello – including some from Walmer.
‘Since we’ve had her, we’ve replaced the decks and updated her to modern safety standards, but generally the boat is as she was in RNLI days.’
You can find out more at lifeboattrips.co.uk. and in the book, The Hampshire Rose Story.
The holiday liveaboards
Formerly known as City of Bristol, Clyde class ex-lifeboat Gemini Explorer was built in 1974. She served Clovelly Lifeboat Station in Devon from 1975 to 1988, before being taken out of service in 1989. Initially operating as a patrol boat for Kent Fisheries, Gemini Explorer then made a career change to tourism. And last year she was sold to St Hilda Sea Adventures, who’ve welcomed her into their fleet of three liveaboards. She’ll take her first cruise at the end of April this year and will then spend the season exploring both the Inner and Outer Hebrides, including St Kilda.
Managing Director Julie Dubois Marshall says: ‘She is a lovely wee boat! Before she was with us she was operating off the east coast of Scotland doing day tours. At the moment we’re doing a big conversion inside, changing all the cabins to ensuites so she’ll be able to sleep eight guests and a crew of two.’
You can check out the new layout at sthildaseaadventures.co.uk.
RNLI lifeboats don’t always stay in the UK and Ireland. One such example is the Barnet class John Gellatly Hyndman, of former RNLI lifeboat station Stronsay in Orkney. Since retiring in 1985, she’s moved to Antigua in the Caribbean and has been converted into a liveaboard and adventure boat by owner Chris Harris. You can find out more on Chris’s Facebook page ‘Sea Terra’.
The home from home
Every now and then, new owners love their ex-lifeboats so much that they just can’t bear to be away from them! For Mechanic Tom Edwards, discovering Irish Mist (formerly St Brendan of Rosslare Harbour Lifeboat Station) in Holyhead in 2017 changed the course of his life and career.
‘I acquired her after chancing upon the advert while idly looking at prices for lifeboats with a half-baked idea of converting one for foul-weather cruising,’ Tom recalls. ‘Once I saw her, it was a done deal. She was lifted in and with new batteries, new filters, new oil and water pump impellers, I set off in January 2018 for Kent.’
Irish Mist led Tom first to the Lifeboat Enthusiasts Society Facebook group and then to the RNLI! Through the group, he discovered that the RNLI welcomes people with his knowledge and skills.
‘After keeping an eye on the RNLI’s website it wasn’t too long before I saw an advert for a mechanic in Ramsey. After working my notice, I set off with my Harley Davidson, jet ski and cat. I stopped at Rosslare to meet Mist’s old crew, then over to Pwllheli for a week’s craft familiarisation on a Mersey, then round to Conwy via the Menai Strait for a week with the coast technicians, followed by a week at Rhyl for more training. Then to Ramsey, where I’ve been for a good few months now, and an extremely warm welcome from crew and locals!’
Tom lives aboard Irish Mist in Ramsey Harbour, where he regularly takes her for outings – including a trawler race at Maryport!
The youth training vessel
The 50001 Youth Training Trust is a Lowestoft-based charity started in 2014 by former RNLI Crew Member Scott Snowling. Bringing together a core group of dedicated volunteers of different ages and backgrounds, the trust is working to restore the Lowestoft-built former Falmouth and Dover historic lifeboat Rotary Service as a training vessel.
The volunteer team has a passion for education and preservation of maritime heritage. They are working towards giving young people a chance to come onboard the Thames class ex-lifeboat as a volunteer or for a short training course with qualified instructors, to equip them with the qualifications and experience to pursue a maritime career.
For updates on the restoration, see 50001.org.uk or follow ‘50001 Youth Training Trust’ on Facebook.
The safety boats
Based in Tynemouth Haven, Red Seal Rescue provides safety boats for sailing and rowing events in the area, as well as aquathons and firework displays. The crew are volunteers and Red Seal Rescue trains up junior crew from the age of 13.
Red Seal Rescue uses a range of former RNLI inshore lifeboats, including the D class Lord Kitchener, which served Walmer, Barmouth, South Broads and the relief fleet from 1997 to 2010.
You can find out more about their work on the ‘Red Seal Safety Boats’ Facebook page.
International search and rescue boats
From China to Chile, Iceland to Uruguay and beyond, RNLI lifeboats often find a new lease of life in other search and rescue organisations.
We have a longstanding relationship with Uruguay’s lifeboat service, La Asociación Honoraria de Salvamentos Marítimos y Fluviales (ADES), selling retired RNLI lifeboats to them and training volunteers.
In 1984, Arbroath’s former Watson class The Duke of Montrose made its way across the Atlantic to ADES, and Hartlepool’s former Waveney class The Scout joined her in 1997. In the past decade the former Tyne class lifeboats City of Edinburgh of Fraserburgh and The Lady Rank of Angle joined the fleet.
The four former RNLI lifeboats in the ADES fleet save lives on the north coast of the 140-mile wide Río de la Plata estuary, where the Uruguay and Paraná rivers converge and mark the Uruguay–Argentina border. The coast here is the most densely populated area of Uruguay.
The Annie Blaker
So what’s to become of Wicklow’s Annie Blaker, the last Tyne class?
‘Annie Blaker has been sold to a private customer in Portishead,’ Adrian says. ‘The new owner is a lifeboat enthusiast and will be using the former lifeboat for personal leisure use.’
Wicklow Lifeboat Operations Manager Des Davitt says: ‘She was here in Wicklow for almost 30 years so she became part of the crew. There were a lot of teary eyes on her departure and probably the most people I’ve seen on the pier in 40 years, waving her off. We’re delighted that she’s going to be owned by an enthusiast and we wish them well.’
Brendan Copeland, Wicklow Lifeboat Mechanic, who cared and tended for Annie Blaker’s every need for years, is thrilled: ‘She deserves it. She has seen so much work in her service and has never failed to take care of her crews. We have grown old together. I miss her very much. All at Wicklow are very proud that she will live on. I wish her fair winds and calm seas – my dearest Annie.’
From search and rescue craft and leisure boats to bed and breakfasts and school playground equipment, RNLI lifeboats are enjoying new leases of life all around the world.
The Lifeboat Enthusiasts Society
For up-to-date information about former RNLI lifeboats – or to learn more about their RNLI service history – a wealth of information can be found in the Lifeboat Enthusiasts Society community.
Three times a year, the society publishes a magazine Lifeboats Past & Present, which helps to preserve and record lifeboat history. You can join the Society for £22 a year (£30 in Ireland), for which you'll receive the magazine and an annual Lifeboat Handbook. Contact Tony Denton on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
You can help save lives at sea with a donation today. From kit to crew training to kids’ education, you’ll be making a real difference to our volunteers – and the people they save.Donate today