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Opening of RNLI All-weather Lifeboat Centre

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18.08.2015

Shannon Class - RNLI Lifeboat

Friday 21 August 2015 will see the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) celebrate the official opening of its All-weather Lifeboat Centre (ALC) in Poole UK.

This will enable production, maintenance and refit of the all-weather lifeboat fleet to be performed in-house and under one roof for the first time in the charity’s 191 year history.

Founded in 1824, the RNLI has the responsibility of keeping the seas around the British Isles safe. Looking after one of the longest coastlines of any European nation is a mammoth task and during its lifetime the RNLI has saved more than 140,000 lives.

The RNLI has a fleet of 346 lifeboats operating out of 237 lifeboat stations. The nature of the work has always been at the forefront of nautical design and development. However, as the technology used on lifeboats has advanced in recent times, the pool of suppliers able to produce them to the required exacting specifications has reduced.

The RNLI solution is to build a world class centre of excellence in lifeboat engineering, production and manufacture at its HQ in Poole. The ALC facility will bring together the production for the next generation of Shannon class all-weather lifeboats, as well as providing a maintenance and refit facility for the existing Tamar and Severn class fleet.

The ALC consists of 2 large steel-framed buildings, both approximately 85 × 30 metre (280 x 100 feet), connected by a central covered courtyard. Each building features a mezzanine walkway at 3 metre (10 feet) high, which will allow engineers and technicians to walk straight onto the deck level of lifeboats for maintenance work.

RNLI Project Supervisor Iona Evans said, “The halls in both buildings have been designed around the largest class of lifeboat. Building A can accommodate five Severn Class vessels at one time, while Building B can house seven.”

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Images credit: Nigel Millard

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The All-weather Lifeboat Centre combines the latest technology with practical design to ensure the most efficient production cycle possible. With 15 flexible bays for producing & maintaining lifeboats, key features of The ALC include: 

  • Bays for maintaining and repairing existing lifeboats
  • Hard standing
  • Launch and recovery area
  • Paint preparation area with dust and fume control
  • Paintshop with heat curing facility
  • Section for supporting inshore training fleet
  • Staff and office facilities
  • Support area with manufacture and repair of composite components
  • Tool and equipment storage
  • Visitors viewing area

The buildings include some impressive features. Moveable platforms will improve ergonomics and efficiency for accessing fit-out and refit lifeboats. PV panels on the roof of the ALC combined with the PV provision onsite means that up to 8% of the RNLI’s energy requirements can be provided by the sun.

Building A is where the first part of the lifeboat manufacturing process will take place. Hulls, decks and wheelhouses are cast in large moulds. Overhead cranes allow the hulls to be moved around the building as work progresses. The 20 metre (65 feet) internal height makes winching a hull out of its mould a safe and controlled operation.

Building A accommodates spray booths, three for the boats themselves, and one smaller booth for painting components. Formed and painted boats will then be transferred across to Building B where the engines and wheelhouses will be installed.

The ALC project has required dedication and skill from a team of both internal and external experts. Prior to construction the sea wall had to be raised to prevent flooding. The RNLI was mindful of the environmental impact and was able to source a large amount of the fill material locally. 25,000 tonnes of sand was dredged and moved by barges from sandbanks in Poole Harbour. This reduced future dredging costs, plus waste and traffic movements on Poole roads were reduced during site raising phase.

Angus Watson, Head of Construction & Refit, said, “We are very proud to be officially opening The ALC. It is an impressive facility which will allow the RNLI to build six Shannon-class lifeboats a year and maintain our other all-weather boats. Having a state of the art facility which will produce, maintain and refit all-weather lifeboats in-house and under one roof is a first for the charity. We are very lucky to have a fantastic team, with a vast experience in the construction and maintenance of our boats, working alongside apprentices who are all contributing to saving lives at sea."

The Shannon, which was designed in-house, is the first RNLI all-weather lifeboat to be powered by water jets instead of propellers. Capable of 25 knots, it is 50% faster than the lifeboats it will gradually replace – the Mersey and Tyne class – meaning that casualties will be reached quicker.

The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea. The RNLI provides a 24-hour on call lifeboat search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Ireland.

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