Oakley-class lifeboat

37-02 Manchester Unity of Oddfellows
Class overview
Builders: J.Samuel White
Operators: Royal National Lifeboat Institution
Preceded by:
Succeeded by: ,
Cost: £32,000
Built: 1958–1971
In service: 1958–1993
Completed: 31
Retired: 31
Preserved: 10
General characteristics
Displacement: 30 long tons (30 t)
Length: 37 ft (11 m)and 48 ft 6 in (14.78 m)
Beam: 11 ft 6 in (3.51 m)and 14 ft 0 in (4.27 m)
Draught: 3 ft 4 in (1.02 m)and 4 ft 4 in (1.32 m)
Propulsion: Two diesel engines (various types)
Speed: 8 knots (9.2 mph; 15 km/h)
Complement: 7

The Oakley class lifeboat was a self-righting lifeboat operated by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution around the coasts of the United Kingdom and Ireland between 1958 and 1993. During this time they saved a combined total of 1,456 lives in 3,734 rescue launches.

The class is known by the name of its designer, Richard A. Oakley.


During the first half of the twentieth century the RNLI had equipped its lifeboat stations with motor lifeboats designed by G L Watson and, later, J R Barnett. Both these men had designed boats that were generally stable, but unlike the earlier boats, were not self-righting. Part of the problem was that motor lifeboats were much heavier than 'pulling and sailing' boats which could be packed with cork to make them buoyant. Richard Oakley worked out how to use shifting water ballast to create a self-righting motor lifeboat.[1][2]

Oakley's 37-foot (11 m) prototype was launched in 1958 and placed in service at . Production boats started to be built in 1961 and in 1963 the prototype 48-foot-6-inch (14.78 m) boat was launched and sent to . The last was built in 1960 and the final in 1963, after which Oakleys were the only all-weather lifeboats put into service for the next eight years.[3]


The Oakley was designed as a self-righting boat. The design combined great stability with the ability to self-right in the event of it capsizing. This was achieved by a system of shifting water ballast. The system worked by the lifeboat taking on one and half tons of sea water at launching in to a tank built into the base of the hull. If the lifeboat then reached a crucial point of capsize the ballast water would transfer through valves to a righting tank built into the port side. If the capsize was to the starboard side of the lifeboat, the water shift started when an angle of 165° was reached. This would push the boat into completing a full 360° roll. If the capsize was to the port side, the water transfer started at 110°. In this case the weight of water combined with the weight of machinery aboard the lifeboat usually managed to stop the roll and allow the lifeboat to bounce back to upright. The water was discharged from the tank when the ship was taken out of the sea after each launch. A problem emerged with damp sand left in the tank after the water was drained. This caused a weak electrolytic action that eroded the copper nails which held the wooden hulls together.[4]

The hull of the Oakley class was constructed from two wooden skins with a layer of calico between. After several years it was found that the calico absorbed water which caused softening of the wood around the copper nails. This led to a series of surveys in the late 1980s and the withdrawal of some boats, or replanking of others.[4] The skins were made from diagonally laid African Mahogany planks. The outer one was 0.375 inches (9.5 mm) thick with the inner 0.25 inches (6.4 mm). The keel was iron and weighed 1.154 tons. The hull was divided into eleven watertight compartments.

Two sizes were built. Most boats were 37 feet (11 m) in length and 11 feet 6 inches (3.51 m) in beam. It displaced 12.05 tons when fully laden with crew and gear. Five larger boats were built that were 48 feet 6 inches (14.78 m) long and 14 feet (4.3 m) wide.


37 foot boats

ON Op. No. Name Built In service Principal stations Further use[3]
942 37-01 J.G. Graves of Sheffield 1958 1958–1993 Preserved at Chatham Historic Dockyard
960 37-02 Manchester Unity of Oddfellows 1961 1961–1990 Preserved at Sheringham
961 37-03 Calouste Gulbenkian 1961 1962–1991 Under restoration at Donaghadee
966 37-04 Robert and Dorothy Hardcastle 1962 1962–1968

Relief fleet
Preserved at Hartlepool
972 37-05 The Will and Fanny Kirby 1963 1963–1979

Relief fleet
Preserved at Chatham Historic Dockyard
973 37-06 Fairlight 1964 1964–1988

Pleasure boat at Blakeney Harbour
974 37-07 Jane Hay 1964 1964–1974

Relief fleet

Broken up 1995
975 37-08 Sir James Knott 1963 1963–1969

Relief fleet

Relief fleet
Preserved at Redcar
976 37-09 Lilly Wainwright 1964 1964–1990

Pleasure boat at Cobh
977 37-10 Charles Fred Grantham 1964 1964–1990

Relief fleet
Broken up 1993
978 37-11 The Royal Thames 1964 1964–1969

979 37-12 Amelia 1964 1964–1978
Relief fleet
Originally named James and Catherine Macfarlane. Preserved at Charlestown
980 37-13 William Henry and Mary King 1964 1964–1967

Children's playground, Highbury, London
981 37-14 Mary Pullman 1964 1965–1989 Hull on display at Spalding
982 37-15 Ernest Tom Nethercoat 1965 1965–1990

Under restoration
983 37-16 The Doctors 1965 1965–1991

Relief fleet
Under restoration at Donaghadee
984 37-17 Mary Joicey 1966 1966–1981

Relief fleet
Under restoration for display at Newbiggin
985 37-18 Valentine Wyndham-Quin 1967 1968–1984

Preserved at Harwich
986 37-19 Lloyds II 1966 1966–1990

Broken up 1993
991 37-20 Edward and Mary Lester 1967 1967–1989 Broken up 1989
992 37-21 Frank Penfold Marshall 1968 1968–1989 Broken up 1989
993 37-22 Har Lil 1968 1968–1990 Under restoration at South Ferriby
994 37-23 The Vincent Nesfield 1969 1969–1988
Relief fleet
Broken up 1991
995 37-24 James Ball Ritchie 1970 1970–1991 Broken up 1992
996 37-25 Birds Eye 1970 1970–1990 Preserved at Moelfre
997 37-26 Lady Murphy 1971 1972–1988 Broken up 1995

48 foot 6 inch boats

ON Op. No. Name Built In service Principal stations Further use[3]
968 48-01 The Earl and Countess Howe 1963 1963–1977

Broken up 2003
989 48-02 James and Catherine Macfarlane 1967 1967–1983

Preserved at Land's End
990 48-03 Ruby and Arthur Reed 1966 1967–1984

Preserved at Hythe
1015 48-12 Charles Henry 1968 1969–1984

Pleasure boat at Exeter
1016 48-13 Princess Marina 1970 1970–1988 Broken up 2003


External links

  • RNLI
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