PortCities London

Lifesaving on the Thames

A standard lifeboat design

Northumberland's design challenge

James Peake, Woolwich.
View full size imagePlan of the design submitted by James Peake, Master Shipwright of HM Dockyard at Woolwich. © NMM
By 1850, it was becoming clear that there was a need for a standard design of a shore-based lifeboat. In October of that year, the Duke of Northumberland offered a premium of 100 guineas (£105.00) for the best lifeboat design.

The competition was advertized in the national and local press. This resulted in 280 entries, including 82 from London and 11 from other countries. Entrants were asked to submit scale models and plans of their designs, which were then assessed by a committee against a set of criteria. This even included testing models in the Thames for stability.

Beeching's winning design

'Pulling and Sailing'
View full size imageModel of the standard pulling and sailing self-righting lifeboat, c. 1860. © NMM
The competition was won by James Beeching of Great Yarmouth. His design clearly led the way as it was the first to be efficiently self-righting if turned over.

After Beeching's lifeboat was built and exhaustive trials had been carried out, the management committee decided that they would try to combine the best features of all the other entries submitted into a single design. 

The committee asked James Peake, Master Shipwright of the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich, to prepare drawings and build the new improved boat. The result, known as the 'Self Righting Pulling and Sailing Lifeboat', became the mainstay of the RNLI's fleet for the next 50 years.

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