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THE RNLI - A Holiday Workshop 30th May, 2023

Learning objectives:

  • To understand how the Royal National Lifeboat Institute started and how it has transformed and developed of the years.

  • To appreciate the work that the Royal National Lifeboat Institute does today by visiting a working lifeboat station.

  • To learn how to paint and put together a wooden model of a lifeboat.

  • To learn the skills of reading instructions accurately.

Readers of the previous blog may have gathered that I really enjoy combining practical making activites with visits.

Throughout my youth, the most memorable learning that I have experienced is that very combination. From watching a professional Shakespearean play 'A Midsummer Nights Dream' in Richmond Park after having extensively studied it for O'level to being a part of the jury trying a witch in Williamsburg, Virginia, in the same court house they tried the real person accused of witchcraft in 1710.

To replicate these experiences and to pass on the love of learning is to fulfil one of my teaching goals. This particular workshop aimed to connect their experiences of making lifeboats to real life.

The pictures are of children mid-flow in making their wooden lifeboats during the morning.

After a small word search and registration we started our workshop with a presentation and quiz. This concerned the history of the RNLI. Some fascinating facts came to light during my research into the RNLI.

For instances, on average during the early 1800s, 1,800 ships were shipwrecked around the British Isles. It was so common that it was an accepted part of life. So, it's no wonder why there was a need for lifeboats.

Sir William Hillary attempted to get the Royal Navy to help create a dedicated lifesaving institute. However, the Royal Navy wasn't interested. Perhaps they thought their role was to protect the trade routes and not the lives of the traders. Eventually, he succeeded with the help of some Members of Parliament, to create the first ever shipwreck life-saving institute - 'The Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck’. This was later shortened to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution or RNLI.

Since its beginnings in 1824 the RNLI has saved 143,000 people from the sea.

The lifeboats have improved immeasurably from open boats powered only by oarsman that had compartments to make them float even if upturned to the Shannon Class watertight offshore boats powered by water jets that propel them through the water at 27 knots.

There are even four lifeboat stations that have hovercraft to get across mud and sand where other lifeboats cannot travel.

The students did well in the quiz and it was hard to award a first place as two groups got 12 out of 12. They both received a small prize.

Building the wooden model lifeboats

The model I chose for the children to build was a fairly simple wooden construction kit. It was quite tricky to slide together as the kits required no glue, relying instead on slots and pushing wood together.

This, some of the students found difficult and they needed an adult to slot some of the hulls into the correct position so other parts were able to be slotted in.

They also need to be painted on the sprue before being slotted together. I colour-coded one kit, photoed and printed sheets out for the students to study. This worked well and the kits were completed looking quite good all in all.

Whilst the students and some of the adult helpers were assembling the models, I took small groups outside to spray-paint little Lego men who were previously Lego SWAT team members.

We painted their bodies yellow and bullet proof vest red, to resemble lifejackets. The helmets and caps were spray-painted white. They looked great other than the fact that the yellow didn't cover the black SWAT team outfit very thoroughly.

A bit of white-tac to stick the lifeboat men onto the boat and you've got the completed model. The one thing I didn't have time to add was the numbering down the side of the boat which I had done on the prototype.

After having a break we continued and finished the building of the wooden lifeboats. After lunch we had a few more minutes to finalise the boats before walking down to the Clacton Lifeboat station.

Visit to Clacton Lifeboat Station

Dennis, the station's Visitor Officer, was there to meet us and brought us to the meeting room where we were given a very informative presentation regarding the types of lifeboats we have in Clacton and the way they are used.

Clacton uses two types of lifeboat - A small D class 3 man inflatable and a larger 4 man rigid inflatable an Atlantic 85. The hull is rigid with inflatable sides. It also has a feature on top of the communication frame that helps right the boat if it is turned upside down. An emergency handle (which you can just see above the shoulder of the student in grey) is pulled and a bag inflates on the mast framework. This helps flip the boat back over. The link below shows a very good short video of this.

Next we were taken to the changing rooms where they ready themselves for going to sea. They have yellow dry-suits, lifejackets and white helmets. These helmets are also radio communication devices so that they can speak in a normal voice in the very noisy environment of an open lifeboat with 230hp outboard engines and the breaking waves making it very difficult to speak over.

The Talus MB-4H tractor that brings out the lifeboat is quite a vehicle weighing in at 9.8 tonnes or 9800kg and has two driving positions so it can drive in both directions equally comfortably. There was also an explanation on how it collects the lifeboat and in an high seas deploying a net to literally catch the lifeboat as it charges into the cradle and gets driven to sea. Below is a link to watch a rough weather net catch by the tractor and cradle.

After the presentation we got the chance to see the D class inflatable lifeboat, the Talus MB-4H Tractor, lifeboat cradle and the Atlantic 85 rigid inflatable lifeboat.

The two engines on the back of the 85 are each

115hp giving it a top speed of 35 knots and a two hours of fuel.

The students and adults in front of the D class inflatable for the inshore shallow water rescues. It has a crew of three and apparently isn't very comfortable as the crew are obliged to kneel.

Below, is one of the students making friends with 'Dead Fred' a training dummy. It weighs the same as a human and were were told that Fred is taken out to sea and the crews have to try and find it.

After the visit to the station we all spent our pocket money in the RNLI shop which is packed with fun and useful items. I bought an RNLI cap and fridge magnet.

We returned to the church hall a little later than anticipated. I noticed some of the students looking more closely at their models and adding the Lego men.

A good sign, I hope.

Lessons learned:

  • As per usual, I bit of a little more than I could chew. The presentation and quiz went on a bit too long. I could have had less text in the slides. However, when faced with a competition and small prize for the quiz, the students paid attention and the scores for the quiz were so high that I had to award.

  • Most but not all had finished their models so a little less time on the presentation and more making time would have been better.

  • I could have provided more differentiated models particularly for the older students. However, when one looks at the cost of an airfix model of a Severn Class lifeboat, you are talking about £30 plus. The time it would take to make would also be a factor. There seems to be no other models in-between. It's a shame that the RNLI doesn't invest in a similar model to the one we built which was manufactured and designed in China. Presumably, their lifeboats look like this as the designs are slightly different to the river class boats.


On the whole, this was a successful worshop. I felt that the students were sufficiently challenge with the building. They listened well to the presentation as exemplified by the quiz results. They enjoyed the visit and came back feeling more curious about The RNLI and what it does. They liked their models as I saw many of them playing with them at the end and were proud that they had made them.

For me, this, the previous workshop and future ones will be the framework for the workshops as it provides suitable indoor and outdoor balances. Perhaps a time to play would be a good idea, particularly after lunch as it helps burn off that excess energy that children have. Maybe, some structured games may also be a good idea but I would want them some time to get to know each other so free time is preferable.

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