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Supacat and RNLI show new lifeboat launcher

29 March 2012

The Supacat Launch & Recovery System (L&RS) for the latest class of RNLI lifeboat – the Shannon – has officially been displayed for the first time by the Supacat and RNLI’s joint project teams responsible for its development. The production standard L&RS was demonstrated and inspected by representatives from its 30 key component suppliers as part of a supply chain briefing held at Supacat’s Devon facility.

The L&RS undergoing beach trials at Llandudno
The L&RS undergoing beach trials at Llandudno

The L&RS supply chain is dominated by British engineering firms, over half of which are based in the South West with the rest stretching up to the North East of England.
The L&RS is the solution to the RNLI’s challenge of launching and recovering its new 18-tonne Shannon Class all-weather lifeboat (ALB). It is a highly mobile vehicle and powered-carriage system, 20.2m in length. Designed by Supacat for use at lifeboat stations where no slipway or harbour exists, it will negotiate some of the British Isles’ most demanding beaches.  The RNLI aims to launch its lifeboats within ten minutes of being notified of an emergency at sea, therefore the L&RS is crucial to the new Shannon class’ ability to achieve that target. 

Innovative design features include a permanent, software controlled Four-Track-Drive system to provide the mobility to negotiate the steepest gradients and gullies and travel long distances over flat sand or shingle.  A 360 degree rotating cradle allows for the safer `Bow First` launch and recovery.  The L&RS can be operated in heavy surf conditions, and in water at depths approaching 3m. In case of immobilisation, it can withstand full submersion in water up to 9m deep. 

Following prototype development and trials completed in 2010, Supacat has rebuilt the prototype L&RS up to the pre-production standard system, incorporating a series of design upgrades to improve performance, reliability and reduce “cost of ownership”.  These include a new lightweight composite cab with improved all-round vision, a Supacat designed marine proofed track system and a new 13L Scania engine. 

In September 2011 the pre-production system successfully completed beach trials at different stations with diverse conditions.  Initially at Llandudno where an undulating and deep shingle bank cannot be negotiated using existing in-service launch systems, then onto Dungeness for its steep pebble beach, finishing at Hoylake where spring tides mean distances of up 3 miles have to be covered from boathouse to water. 

The pre-production unit has since been fitted with an updated cradle to match the Shannon class’ new enhanced hull.  Supacat will deliver the unit next week to the RNLI, who will conduct further beach trials testing its compatibility with the prototype Shannon lifeboat.  The first production L&RS is scheduled to be built later this year with first delivery in 2013.

For more information about Supacat, click here.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) is a venerable charity that relies on public support. If you would like to donate, details can be found here.

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