New facilities for RNLI

Since its foundation in 1824, the RNLI has saved more than 140,000 lives, even continuing through two world wars.

In recent years the RNLI has seen a significant expansion of services, including the modernisation of its lifeboats, which has resulted in the requirement to adapt or replace a number of its boathouses.

In total, four existing slipway stations have been adapted and nine new stations are being constructed. Sites at Mumbles Pier, Swansea and Porthdinllaen, Gwynedd are key to the RNLI’s strategic lifeboat coverage and have been allocated the new and faster Tamar class slipway launched all-weather lifeboat. Works at both sites is well underway, with the Mumbles station due for completion in January 2014, whilst Porthdinllaen is scheduled to reach completion in February 2014.

Discussing the need for the new stations, RNLI’s Shoreworks Projects Engineer, Ben Sautter, said:

“The current fleet of Tyne class offshore lifeboats, introduced in the early 1980’s have come to the end of their serviceable life. The RNLI has developed a technologically more advanced Tamar class lifeboat to meet the operational and performance requirements of the lifeboat service in the twenty-first century.

“In total, there are 27 Tamar lifeboats in this class. Due to the increased size of the boat, this has resulted in the need to upgrade nine of our slipway lifeboat stations, which are either too small to accommodate the new boat or have reached the end of their design life.”

The contract for the new lifeboat station at the Mumbles was appointed in May 2012 with BAM Nuttall as the main contractor. Work has progressed well on the project and despite its remote location at the end of Mumbles Pier and the need to service the site by sea, the new lifeboat station is on schedule to reach completion as planned.

Both the Mumbles and Porthdinllaen are quite compact boathouses compared to other slipway stations, such as Padstow in Cornwall, just housing the all-weather lifeboat and changing facilities for the crews. However, both stations are backed by on-shore facilities, which include a station office and crew training room and at the Mumbles, a D class inshore lifeboat.

The lifeboat station at Mumbles is being constructed within the head of the Listed Pier and is founded on tubular steel piles with a precast concrete substructure and laminated timber frame. The building will be clad in Siberian larch with a zinc standing seam roof. Meanwhile, Porthdinllaen lifeboat station is being constructed at the end of a golf course. The existing crew facilities are located next to the golf course’s club house and will be retained.

Porthdinllaen is being built on the site of the former lifeboat station on a beach owned by the National Trust. The RNLI worked closely with the National Trust’s Architectural Panel to ensure that the appearance of the building was sympathetic to its surroundings. The result is a boathouse faced in local stone to first floor level, with timber cladding above and a copper standing seam roof making for a very unique building.

Ben said:

“This is the first time, in a very long time, that the RNLI have design a new class of lifeboat from scratch, purely considering performance and operational capability and without the constraints of having to fit the vessel into an existing lifeboat house. This has resulted in a more technically advanced craft, able to get the crews to a casualty in a shorter time in relative comfort and therefore in better shape to assist on arrival.

“The present lifeboat stations and slipways have served us well, in some cases for over 90 years, but they are nearing the end of their design lives. With the increased weight and dimensions of the new Tamar class, it is no longer cost affective to adapt these aging structures. The RNLI employs external Civil Engineers and Architects for these projects, but as an ‘expert Client’ we oversee the design during the development stage and construction when on site. We have a lot of past experience with the construction of maritime structures and know what works and what does not. Our continued involvement allows us to ensure that we get the right outcome at the end of the day.”

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