Design boost for lifeboats

Valentia severn class lifeboat John and Margaret Doig. Credit: RNLI/Nigel Millard Valentia severn class lifeboat John and Margaret Doig. Credit: RNLI/Nigel Millard

The approach to the design of all-weather lifeboats in the UK is set for a re-evaluation as part of a major study being led by the Newcastle University and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), with support from Lloyds’ Register.

Set up to explore how new technology, materials and approaches can be used to improve the design, operation and maintenance practice of the RNLI’s Severn Class lifeboat, the four-year project will help to improve the performance of the craft while providing the safest possible environment for the RNLI’s volunteer crews. 

Using computer models, small scale experiments and full-size trials to analyse the behaviour of lifeboats at a range of speeds and in varying conditions, the findings will inform new design specifications around speed, safety and efficiency. 

Richard Birmingham, Professor of Small Craft Design in Newcastle University’s School of Marine Science and Technology and the Principal Investigator on the project, said, “The ability to safely perform at high speed and in extreme conditions is not only imperative for the safety of the volunteer crew but also has a direct effect on the efficiency and reliability of the search and rescue service.

“Designing a boat that is capable of travelling safely at greater speed and under the most extreme conditions, means a better response to emergency call-outs and less transit time to reach the casualty.” 

Project lead Federico Prini, research associate at Newcastle University’s School of Marine Science and Technology, added, “When the RNLI’s lifeboats travel at speed and in rough seas, they can be subject to frequent and significant slamming as the boat crashes against the waves.

“Measuring these forces and the resulting impact on the vessel is crucial in order to design a craft that is capable of withstanding the loads experienced during rescue operations. That is what we are setting out to do – using the latest technology and equipment here at Newcastle University.”

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