RNLI expands lifeboat building activity

Six new lifeboats will be built each year at the new facility (RNLI) Six new lifeboats will be built each year at the new facility (RNLI)

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) have been handed the keys to their new All-Weather Lifeboat Centre at Poole in Dorset in a development that will see a change in the way they build and maintain lifeboats.

For the RNLI, building their own all-weather lifeboats (ALBs) will be a big step, but one that makes sense when considered alongside their 5-Year Business Plan for a 50% reduction in drownings in the UK and Republic of Ireland by 2024. Critical to this is completion of the 25 knot ALB fleet, the final piece of this jig-saw now underway with the build programme of the Shannon class ALB (MJ March 2014).

Building their own lifeboats is nothing new for the RNLI. Since 1963 they have built over 1,600 inshore lifeboats at their facilities at Cowes on the Isle of Wight but over their history carefully selected commercial boat builders have been entrusted with ALB construction (and refits). With the advent of composites and modular construction, components are now produced by individual suppliers with final assembly carried out at traditional boatyards. Recent years have seen a reduction in this pool of suppliers giving the RNLI less opportunity to negotiate on costs also risking the supply chain

Green Marine at Lymington in Hampshire was such a supplier and when, in 2008 the company was restructured, selling their lifeboat construction capability was seen to have positive benefits for the company. For the RNLI it was essential to safeguard the skill base of this part of their lifeboat construction and repair programme so they formed a subsidiary, SAR Composites Ltd which took over lifeboat related work of Green Marine, all their hulls are now produced there.

Bringing the process in-house was an obvious next step and the RNLI expects to save over £3m of donors contributions every year from the efficiency of having everything in one place, no longer having to pay for contractors’ profits and overheads. As a charity the RNLI have a responsibility to spend donors’ money wisely. At least 50 new Shannon class lifeboats will be required for this next phase of the RNLI’s planning with a target of building six lifeboats each year.

It is not only about building new boats however. Lifeboats have a minimum life expectancy of 25 years and in order to gain maximum value over that lifetime, and more importantly ensure they meet the high standards required to safeguard their volunteer crews, a strict maintenance programme is essential both at the lifeboat’s own station and refits at boatyards. The ALC will therefore also be equipped to maintain the existing station and relief lifeboat fleet over the next 20 years.

The ALC has been being built on land owned by the RNLI at their headquarters site at Poole and the facility will feature, two boat halls with flexible bays for manufacturing and maintaining lifeboats; a component manufacturing area; launch, recovery and boat storage area; paint preparation area with extraction system and heat curing facility; workshop for supporting the inshore training fleet; office facilities; tools and equipment storage and a visitors’ viewing area.

Around 225 people will eventually work within the new building comprising 150 production, and around 75 office staff and later this year the six apprentices that have been based at Bournemouth College full-time since September 2014 will be welcomed at the new facility.

The RNLI have a £5m fundraising target for the new ALC, a figure now close to being achieved and the recent handing-over of the keys by the builders is the next stage of the ALC’s phased development with actual lifeboat work starting immediately and the site due to be fully operational by 2019.

By Peter Barker 

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