Walmer lifeboat station is fairly unusual in that it has two inshore lifeboats: a D class and a B class.
D class on launch trailer
Atlantic 85
D class and crew using oars
Atlantic 85 recovery
D class recovery
Atlantic 85 recovery

Duggie Rodbard

The D class lifeboat Duggie Rodbard is designed to work close to the shore and has a very shallow draught, which is particularly useful for beach and under-cliff operations. It is powered by a Mariner 50Hp outboard motor. The D class is best described as an inflatable; simply put, treated rubber tubes filled with air provide the main structure and buoyancy of the boat. This allows the boat to resist, or absorb, impact from objects much better than a rigid hull, and provides significant buoyancy and weight advantages over a more conventional boat design. The floor is solid, with an impact-absorbent mat for the crew to kneel on. The bow of the lifeboat has a watertight compartment for first aid equipment, flares, torches, a fire extinguisher, an oxygen cylinder for medical purposes, a GPS plotter, a VHF radio and a sea anchor.

Launch and recovery

The D class is launched by running its trailer to the water's edge. The boat is then removed from its trailer by shore helpers and crew, turned bow to the waves and dragged the last few feet to the water. The helmsman assesses the waves on the beach, waits for a 'smooth' and then instructs the crew to push or drag the lifeboat into the water fully. A good push will allow the helmsman and crew to jump in, and provide enough momentum to clear the boat from the shore and start the motor. Being left behind is not good karma, and this thought runs through many a probationer! The oars can be deployed if necessary and the boat rowed through the breakers, but usually the engine starts quickly and the oars are unnecessary.

Recovery normally involves a fast approach to the beach, judging waves correctly, leaving the boat high and dry. The engine is switched off and held out of the water to prevent propeller damage just before the beach is reached. Sometimes, in really calm weather, the boat can be driven onto the trailer while still in the water. A donkey motor helps pull the boat and trailer up the beach.

Donald McLauchlan

Walmer's B class lifeboat Donald McLauchlan, an Atlantic 85, is the latest generation of rigid inflatable boat commissioned by the RNLI. The vessel is a considerable development on the Atlantic 21 previously stationed at Walmer. It is larger and quicker, with more powerful engines (twin 115Hp Yamahas). Standard equipment now includes radar, radio direction finding equipment and an extra seat, increasing crew capacity to four. She has a carbon fibre hull, an anchor compartment and a ballast tank in the bow. The ballast tank improves her sea keeping capabilities, especially when travelling up-sea (into the waves). Filling the tank adds weight to the bow of the boat and shifts the centre of gravity further forward. When the extra weight is not necessary, the ballast is drained.

Launch and recovery

The tractor pushes the boat and trailer into the water bow first. Communication between the helmsman and the tractor driver is maintained by VHF radio. The engines are started in the water, but can be started beforehand if required, with water tanks attached to the trailer cooling the engines for up to 10 minutes out of the sea. Two crew members hold securing ropes, waiting to release the boat when the helmsman gives the word. Power is applied and the boat leaves the trailer.

Recovery depends on the sea state. Calm conditions allow the helmsman to reverse the boat into the trailer. This means the shore crew do not have to rotate the boat later so that it is bow first in the trailer. Rougher conditions involve a net being fixed to the back of the trailer and the boat being driven bow-first into it. The vessel is then held in the net and securing lines snapped on by the crew. The boat is then hauled clear of the beach and raised by a jack and turntable combination trolley. The trailer is removed with the boat perched on the turntable, the boat is rotated and the trailer placed under the boat again. The turntable is lowered and the boat is secured to the trailer for the next launch.

Both boats are religiously washed down and refuelled. Once the refuelling is done and any essential maintenance carried out, the Coastguard is informed that the vessel is ready for service.

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