Beach trials of the launch system

Lifeboat launcher put to the test

Beach trials of a lifeboat launch and recovery system (L&RS) developed by Supacat for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution mark a key milestone in the programme to bring the RNLI’s new Shannon-class all-weather lifeboat into service.

Following previous trials, Supacat rebuilt the prototype L&RS into a pre-production system, incorporating a series of design upgrades to improve performance and longevity. These include a lightweight composite cab offering all-round vision to replace the prototype’s steel cab, a marine-proofed track system and new 13L Scania engine offering commonality with the boat engine.

A Controller Area Network (CANbus) electrical system has been introduced to replace a conventional hard-wired system and the operator’s controls have been revised to use the CANbus capabilities. Other design enhancements will give better resistance to corrosion, reduce maintenance and give the system a longer life.

In addition, the boat cradle has been altered to accommodate changes to the Shannon hull design.

The L&RS will carry the lifeboat between the boathouse and water at stations where a harbour or slipway cannot be used. A permanent, software-controlled Four-Track-Drive system provides the mobility to negotiate steep gradients and gullies and travel long distances over flat sand or shingle, and a rotating cradle enables ‘bow first’ launch and recovery. The system has to be usable in heavy surf, and at depths approaching 3m.

This first trial phase involves testing the alterations to the L&RS against diverse conditions at different stations, starting at Llandudno where an undulating and deep shingle bank cannot be negotiated using existing in-service launch systems, then Dungeness for its steep pebble beach, followed by Hoylake where spring tides mean up to three miles has to be covered from boathouse to water.

The second phase will focus on the interface and compatibility between the L&RS and the new lifeboat. This is scheduled to start in January 2012 at Hayle, by which time the prototype Shannon lifeboat with enhanced hull design will be ready for trials. All pre-production trialling should be completed by mid-2012, with the first production build beginning soon afterwards for delivery in 2013.

Supacat’s main business is developing military vehicles. Managing director Nick Ames said: “The new pre-production L&RS is a significant engineering achievement for Supacat and the RNLI project teams, who have found a unique solution to an extremely demanding requirement.”

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