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ACCIS CDT students visit the RNLI in Poole

ACCIS CDT Students outside the RNLI All-Weather Lifeboat Centre Tamas Rev

A Trent-class lifeboat Tamas Rev

The lifeboat assembly bays producing new Shannon-class lifeboats Tamas Rev

4 January 2018

On Wednesday 13 December 2017, PhD students from the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Composites for Innovation and Science (ACCIS CDT) were treated to a behind the scenes tour of the lifeboat manufacturing facilities at the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) All Weather Lifeboat Centre and RNLI HQ, Poole.

The day began with RNLI Senior Naval Architect, Iain Wallbridge telling the history of the RNLI and explaining that all RNLI lifeboats are designed, built, tested and repaired in-house by RNLI’s team of design engineers, laminators, boatbuilders, fitters and apprentices in Poole and the RNLI Inshore Lifeboat Centre on the Isle of Wight.

The first stop on the tour was the composite manufacturing area where combinations of glass and carbon fibre reinforced epoxies and foam cores are made up into the boat’s structural elements. The students were shown the large bespoke ovens and moulds used to manufacture the wheelhouse (top) and hull (bottom) sections of each boat and all structural components. Students were also shown the paint shop where coatings were applied to the composite structures to protect them from the harsh maritime environment.

After this, the students saw the boat assembly bays where the two composite boat sections are bonded together before all the equipment is installed and final paintwork applied. They were even lucky enough to be invited aboard a nearly-complete Shannon-class lifeboat and see its interior: space for up to six crew and almost 80 survivors!

The day concluded with a tour of the boat storage and testing facilities, where the stability and systems operation of each boat is verified in the water. It also allowed students to see a range of different class lifeboats up close. Finally, the students took the opportunity of being by the sea to indulge in fish and chips for lunch!

The tour was very much enjoyed by the students who found it particularly relevant and informative. When asked about the importance of industrial visits of this kind, Steven Grey said: “It was great to see what we do day-to-day actually used in context. I didn’t even realise that the RNLI built their own boats and was really impressed with how effectively they are doing it.”

Iain Wallbridge added: “This was a good opportunity to be able to show the Bristol University students the work of the RNLI’s engineering and boatbuilding teams and discuss the use of composites within the marine industry when answering some of the many questions we were asked! The students are the developers of future materials and composites technology, so I think it is important that they see how some of the materials they work with are used in a manufacturing environment on a slightly larger scale than they are used to in the lab! Hopefully we were able to do that and they went away with a better understanding of the work of the RNLI also.”

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Further information

More information about the RNLI composite lifeboats.

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