RNLI Shannon Lifeboat assessment

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Every Shannon Class prices £2.2 million to construct, and it is easy to see why
The RNLI’s newest – and maybe best – asset for saving lives at sea

For those who’re in hassle on the water, the coastguard can, and fairly often does, request the help of the Royal Nationwide Lifeboat Establishment, the charity that has been saving lives at sea since 1824. And it’s slightly good at it: the RNLI rescues nearly 8500 folks yearly. 

If a lifeboat will get scrambled, there’s an ever-increasing likelihood it’ll be one in every of these: a Shannon class boat, the RNLI’s newest and best lifesaving software. Crewed by six and able to boarding as much as 59 survivors, the Shannon is classed as an All-Climate Lifeboat, a time period that, typically, means it could possibly function offshore and is so sturdy that it could possibly safely exit regardless of the sea situations. 

The Shannon owes its existence to the RNLI’s purpose of reaching at the very least 90% of casualties who’re inside 10 nautical miles of the coast inside 30 minutes of launching a ship in any climate. In consequence, it desires its entire offshore fleet to be able to at the very least 25 knots, so at the very least 80 of the RNLI’s 238 stations will finally use a Shannon because it steadily replaces two slower courses of boat. 

The primary Shannon arrived on its station in 2014 and 26 are actually in service. Designed solely in-house by the RNLI and constructed in a brand new purpose-built manufacturing facility at its Poole headquarters, Shannons value £2.2 million apiece. New, progressive and proving to be exceptionally efficient – in our checks, it proved to be slightly faster than its 25-knot design velocity – the Shannon makes for the proper Christmas highway check.

Design and engineering

The RNLI designs its personal boats as a result of it has very particular necessities. Its boats want a singular mix of velocity, manoeuvrability and stability. They should have sufficient sturdiness and redundancy to function for 50 years in appalling situations, sufficient power to tow different boats, the dexterity to function in shallow waters and ample deck area to have folks winched away by helicopter. They should accommodate their crew and a big survivor area, but nonetheless match inside small current lifeboat stations. 

Oh, and to convey one in every of these boats ashore, the helmsman principally pins open the throttles and goals it at a seashore, so it additionally wants to face up to that with out sustaining injury. 

Step ahead a younger RNLI naval architect referred to as Peter Eyre, who first designed the Shannon’s hull form as an experimental challenge. Slim on the entrance and broad on the rear, it proved to be terrifically steady and quickly turned a manufacturing actuality. 

A manufacturing Shannon is 13.6m lengthy general (the hull size under the waterline measures 11.6m), and it’s four.5m broad, with a draft – the depth under the waterline – of simply 1m. The hull and superstructure, or wheelhouse, are made solely from composites: primarily an epoxy resin sandwich, which is powerful, gentle and simple to restore, with carbonfibre reinforcement in these areas requiring additional power. 

Uniquely for an offshore lifeboat, the Shannon makes use of a pair of waterjets slightly than propellers. They provide unparalleled manoeuvrability and assist it function in shallow waters, and between them have ample thrust to drive as much as 1.5 tonnes of water per second from the again of the boat. The jets might be aimed left or proper, however the intelligent bit is a pair of buckets that hinge hydraulically behind them. When the buckets are away from the water, the boat drives forwards. Dropping them into the jets’ path deflects the water forwards and reverses the thrust straight away. 

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As such, they will cease the boat in a heartbeat, maintain it in place or crab it sideways in a half-open place, or, with one bucket up and one down, spin the boat on its axis. For the sorts of manoeuvre lifeboats often make, waterjets are proving invaluable, even when torque, for towing one other vessel, isn’t fairly as sturdy as with earlier prop-driven boats. 

Moreover, nothing protrudes from the underside of the hull, so the Shannon is less complicated to seashore, the place it’s recovered, and launched once more, by a really cool Supacat tracked tractor and low-loader trailer set-up, which might be fascinating sufficient for a Christmas highway check. Some Shannons, thoughts, do keep afloat in harbour, whereas others use everlasting slipways. 

The HamiltonJet waterjets (principally tubes with a stainless-steel impeller inside) are pushed by shafts from two six-cylinder 12.7-litre Scania turbodiesel engines, mounted parallel to the hull centre line and making 641bhp every. In entrance of these are a pair of 1370-litre gasoline tanks, so the entire main mechanicals are lengthy and low within the hull, giving nice stability and guaranteeing the Shannon self-rights if it capsizes. 

There’s an enormous quantity of redundancy on board. The boat can run on both engine, which may take gasoline from both gasoline tank or via any gasoline filter, and any of three banks of batteries and alternators, all of that are managed by a SIMS – for Methods Info Administration System – solid-state electronics system that runs the boat. And if all that goes improper, the mechanicals might be operated the old style approach. 

All of which means a Shannon suggestions the scales at round 17.9 tonnes, about twice the load of a powerboat of comparable size however with much more than twice the aptitude.


Step via the watertight rear door and there’s a marked distinction between the brightly colored exterior and the predominantly black cabin. There’s truly fairly a beneficiant window space, comprised of 10mm-thick polycarbonate panes, however that is nonetheless an inside that absorbs gentle, for the superb motive that doing so reduces reflections and improves the view out. 

The ground is non-slip coated and there’s a single aisle between two columns of massive, luxurious seats, mounted on shock-absorbing coil-over dampers and with race harnesses. The 2 on the left are for the helmsman (entrance) and mechanic (behind), the three on the correct are for a navigator (entrance), coxswain (center, the chief of the boat) and a second navigator (rear, who additionally has a chart desk). There’s a centre seat on the again for a sixth crew member, usually a physician, in entrance of which, within the aisle, there are flush brackets to find one of many stretchers saved under. Darkish curtains might be drawn to separate areas of the cabin – if a casualty is being handled, as an illustration, so a physician wants gentle however the navigators want darkness. 

The 5 window seats all get a SIMS show display screen, individually dimmable and with a trackball and management buttons with loads of inertia. (The novelty of touchscreens in a drive 12 storm would most likely put on off fairly rapidly.) The SIMS shows management not simply the boat’s mechanical programs and redundancies, but in addition the communications and navigation. 

We set out from Poole right into a uneven English Channel after which a a lot calmer Solent. The damped seats are exceptionally comfy however brilliantly delicate. Solely whenever you look throughout the aisle do you see how a lot they’re shifting and the way a lot of the crashing they’re damping. The wipers have an intermittent setting, there’s cabin heating and air-con by way of vents that demist the home windows, and there’s a small scorching water boiler and cupholders. However no lavatory, so go straightforward on the tea. 

On the entrance of the wheelhouse, a hatch results in the survivor area, which homes six harnessed seats in a light-weight gray cabin. You possibly can match 20 survivors inside and the boat will nonetheless self-right, however a Shannon is rated steady even with 59 survivors on board. 

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Again inside, there’s a cupboard space within the nostril and, behind the survivor area and under the wheelhouse, three extra compartments: one every for gasoline tanks, engines and waterjets. 

The boat is 4 metres tall and the superstructure accounts for properly over half of that, so head room is fairly tight within the mechanical areas. Every compartment has a watertight door and any two of a Shannon’s six areas might be utterly flooded and it’ll stay afloat.

On deck, which we’re going to depend as ‘inside’ for these functions, there are steps to an higher steering place (USP), which has one SIMS display screen and the entire driving controls replicated, besides that the helm joystick is swapped for a wheel.


The Christmas highway check is all the time at its finest after we can connect our data-logging package to the topic. And so in a sheltered little bit of the Solent, we suckered the timing gear to a flat exterior floor, went again inside, requested the helmsman to present it all the things and hoped the tools wouldn’t fall off. Which it didn’t. 

Mariners work in knots however mph fits us, so we adjusted for tides and winds that might make, say, Zero-10mph truly 2-12mph on our GPS. Readouts within the cabin present each true velocity and floor velocity. 

The Shannon is designed to achieve 25 knots (28.8mph), but it surely’s a lot sooner than that: at full chat, it’ll hit practically 32 knots (36mph). It takes some time longer than a automotive to get there, resulting from the truth that water is 50 instances extra viscous than air and a Shannon weighs 18 tonnes, however from relaxation, it’ll be at full velocity inside 35sec  and 420m, which is spectacular. 

However not as spectacular as the way in which it stops. Dropping the buckets and reversing thrust slows a Shannon from its max velocity to stationary in simply 57m in a straight line, however even that’s not the quickest method to do it. Throwing one jet into reverse and cranking the steering to the facet, a type of maritime handbrake flip, may have a Shannon sideways in simply 20.5m, barely greater than its personal size, from high velocity. Maintain turning on that trajectory and it’ll execute a U-turn with a diameter of 48m, with peaks of two.8g. Therefore the harnesses.

Experience and dealing with

Watching an knowledgeable on the controls of a Shannon at velocity in uneven seas is sort of a sight. The steering lever is barely left alone and it’s putting simply how rapidly, in contrast with standard boats, a Shannon might be manoeuvred and aimed. At larger speeds, the buckets are adjusted as one to quickly sluggish and speed up the boat, whose hull cuts via the tops of waves slightly than rebounding over them whereas the spats in the direction of the entrance scale back spray. 

Most of a Shannon’s work on operations is carried out close to full throttle, at round 2200rpm on the engines, so the jets are pushing out their 1.5 tonnes a second and a great deal of energy is out there. That makes the boat brilliantly responsive. Even when stationary, with a impartial bucket place at decrease revs and fore and aft forces nonetheless being exerted, it’s extra steady than a prop boat idling in impartial – like a hovering helicopter slightly than a balloon on a string.

One other wonderful factor about jets and buckets is that you simply’re solely quickly adjusting just a few, low-cost, sturdy components, whereas the impeller, engine and gearbox function in a steady-state, and due to this fact lower-stress, situation.

Shopping for and proudly owning

At idle, round 600rpm, the Shannon’s engines will burn about 4 litres of gasoline an hour between them, though that gained’t get you anyplace in a short time. At typical cruising revs of round 2000rpm, the engines get via 170-190 litres of gasoline per hour, however crews are often in a rush so that they function for lengthy intervals at 2200rpm-plus, which burns gasoline at practically 240 litres per hour and equates to roughly 1.5 miles to the gallon, relying on velocity. The Shannon’s vary, no matter, is at the very least 250 nautical miles at full velocity in heavy seas. 

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The Shannon turnaround time might be brisk. The restoration trailer can also be a turntable and may flip the boat round for a relaunch in just some minutes. As soon as ashore or again at harbour, every gasoline tank might be refilled at 200 litres per minute. 

A Shannon will spend 25 years in service, and following a refit be good for an additional 25. Reliability is reportedly good, though fixed working at full revs could make the turbos a bit scorching and bothered, which is comprehensible. 

You possibly can’t actually purchase a Shannon, though in the event you donate sufficient, they’ll identify one after you. For those who go to the rnli.org web site (and we heartily advocate you do), there are methods you possibly can assist out a high quality organisation. 

That is an establishment that largely runs on volunteers, however there’s a full-time mechanic at every station and a major coaching and assist operation. Protecting 500 boats and 238 stations going prices practically half one million quid a day, all of which is raised by donations. 

Such is the price of rescuing nearly 8500 folks a yr. On common, the RNLI will get 24 call-outs each single day, so there’s a fairly good likelihood a rescue is happening when you’re studying this.


When someone volunteers to get away from bed at 3am in the midst of winter and inside 10 minutes finds themselves on the foot of a 14m-plus wave in a ship not even 14m lengthy whereas considering going out on deck to save lots of lives for no motive apart from their compassion and a want to assist folks, it appears solely proper to present them the very best tools with which to do it. 

And therein lies the motivation to present the Royal Nationwide Lifeboat Establishment’s 4500 volunteers the most effective lifeboat cash should buy, and the place the most effective doesn’t but exist, to go forward and construct it in order that it does. The Shannon class lifeboat is evidently probably the most great embodiment of that, a brilliantly versatile, sturdy, manoeuvrable and fast platform for rescuing folks and saving lives. It simply so occurs that it’s an extremely cool piece of package, too. We liked it.

Tester’s notes

The survival area is vibrant however might be auto-dimmed to a crimson gentle when the hatch is opened, to stop glare in the principle wheelhouse.

The rugged hull is coated with 4 totally different layers of paint – black on high, then yellow, crimson and gray – which put on when the boat is beached. As soon as the gray is exhibiting via, it’s time to reprotect it.

Spec recommendation  There’s just one choice: the strop for the ocean catch. Whether or not the boat lives inside or is a float boat (and stays moored) determines if it will get one.

Jobs for the facelift  Lordy, we don’t know. An additional cupholder? Extra towing oomph? Nothing of any substance.


  • All-weather functionality 
  • Pace and manoeuvrability 
  • Can maintain an especially giant variety of folks 
  • Seaside launch potential


  • Actually, nothing of any consequence 


Value  £2,200,000 

Energy  1282bhp 

Torque  3850lb ft

Zero-30mph  28.8sec 

Gasoline economic system  240 litres/hour 

Max speed-0mph  20.5m

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