Taken from “The Lifeboat Journal” Number 213, August 1904.


THE Committee of Management of the ROYAL NATIONAL LIFE-BOAT INSTITUTION have now for many years had the problem before their mind of the successful employment of a motor in a Life-boat, so as to assist by mechanical means, and thus relieve some of the tremendous work entailed by getting a Life-boat to a wreck against wind and sea; and, with this idea before them, they have carefully watched the gradual development of the modern motor until, from a more or less unreliable and often capricious machine, it has developed into the present form as we know it, with nearly all its previous faults eliminated, and ready for use either ashore or afloat.

Thinking that the time for actual experiment in this direction had now come, they consulted with the Institution's Consulting Naval Architect (Mr. G. L. WATSON) last autumn as to the best and most suitable form in which such experiments should be conducted, and it was decided that an old Life-boat should be selected and fitted up with some form of motor, so that various experiments in all sorts of weathers could be conducted, and thereby valuable experience—obtainable in no other way—gained.

The general scheme on which the motor should be installed in this Lifeboat, together with its necessary details, were entrusted to Captain E. du BOULAY, of Messrs. Thellusson & Co., who has had a good deal of experience in fitting up motors as auxiliary power to sailing-boats and yachts, and the preliminaries having been settled, the actual work was commenced at Mr. Guy's yard at Cowes, Isle of Wight, early in the spring of the current year.

The problem of the successful use of a motor in a Life-boat presents certain difficulties which are not met within other boats, as the whole of the uses and customs of Life-boat work always have differed, and always will differ, materially from those obtaining under other conditions. Thus, to begin with, the motor must be so boxed up inside a perfectly water-tight case that its working will be quite unaffected by the water breaking on board in bad weather. This case cannot be actually air-tight, because motors require a certain amount of air each minute for breathing, so to speak, just as in the case of living creatures, so that the pipe leading this air into the case must be guarded against any influx of water, and moreover, the air must be dried and heated before it is fit for the motor to use. The motor itself must be as completely automatic as possible, because, when once started, the engineer would not be able to give any minute of careful attention to it, especially on a cold, dark night with a heavy sea running. For the same reason the lubrication must be entirely automatic, the usual sight drip feeds employed being quite useless.

In all machinery there are always parts that will, from time to time, require a certain amount of manipulation, and for Life-boat work these must be so lengthened and extended, where necessary, that they can be handled by the engineer from outside the case, and moreover, the handles must be made of different shapes, so as to be easily distinguishable from each other in the dark. That portion of the machinery where the necessary mixture of vapour and air is made, generally called the carburetter, must be of such design that the engine will not fail to work when the boat is standing more or less on end, or when heavily listed over by a sea or the pressure of the sails. Again, should the Life-boat be capsized, if a self-righting boat, she must not lose her self-righting qualities owing to the weight and position of the machinery; but it is imperative that some arrangement should be added whereby the motor should be automatically stopped, otherwise the boat, when righted again, would go away from the crew, who would be in the water and might be damaged by the revolving propeller.

Another point that must not be overlooked is that should the motor fail to work either from damage or any other cause, the rowing and sailing qualities of the Life-boat must be interfered with as little as possible, and the motor selected must be of the simplest construction and working, so that it may be handled by persons who may not be skilled mechanics, and especially must it be always ready to start at any time, either winter or summer, even after long periods of rest and idleness.

The foregoing and many other problems were among those that had to be solved, and a perusal of the actual tests that the experimental Lifeboat has recently gone through will show that both the selection of the motor and the system of its installation have been happy ones.

The Life-boat selected for experiment was an old one formerly stationed at Folkestone, (J. McConnel Hussey) measuring 38 ft. long by 8 ft. beam, pulling 12 oars double banked, and of the usual self-righting type, rigged with jib, fore-lug and mizzen. After she had been hauled up in Mr. Guy's yard, where some of the air-cases under the deck amidships were taken out, a strong mahogany case measuring 4 ft. long by 3 ft. wide, and as high as the gunwales, lined with sheet copper so as to be watertight, with a closely-fitting lid which could be easily removed on shore, was fitted in place, and the whole of the vital parts of the machinery, comprising a 2-cylinder motor of 10 HP., together with all the necessary pumps, carburetter, electric equipment, etc, were fitted inside this case. The engine drives a three-bladed propeller through a long shaft with a disconnecting clutch between, so that for starting the engine or stopping temporarily the screw can be disconnected from the engine.

The petrol which serves as fuel for the engine is carried in a metal tank stored away inside the forward end box, where it is beyond any possibility of accidental damage. Sufficient fuel for a continuous run of over ten hours is carried. The engine is started by a handle fitted on the fore side of the case, which can be worked by two men.

The position and size of the engine case is such that only two oars are interfered with, but it does not follow that the propelling power of the two displaced men is entirely lost, because they can double-bank some of the other oars when necessary.

Fitted thus, the Life-boat was tested in all sorts of weather during the month of April, and it was found that she could be driven fairly well against a sea by means of the motor alone, but when it was used to assist the sails, the true use of the motor as an auxiliary became apparent, and the boat would work to windward in a way previously unobtainable. Neither the heeling effect of the sails, nor the pitching or rolling in a seaway, in any weather then obtainable, interfered at all with the proper working or starting of the motor, which worked steadily and well throughout.

Having been through these preliminary tests, Commander ST. VINCENT NEPEAN, R.N., the Chief Inspector of Life-boats, together with Mr. Barnett, representing Mr. G. L. Watson, who was unfortunately prevented from attending owing to ill-health, and several members of the Committee of Management then visited the Solent, and put the Life-boat through the following severe tests and trials :—
(1.) Running on the measured mile, with full crew and all stores on board, she developed a speed of just over six knots. Her mean draft in these conditions was practically the same as when she was an ordinary Life-boat, with her crew and gear in her and her water-ballast tanks filled.
(2.) With the equivalent weights of thirteen men lashed on the thwarts, and with all the equipment on board, she was capsized by a crane no less than four times, but never failed to self-right, even with her sails set and sheets made fast.
(3.) During the capsizing, the motor, which had been previously started, was automatically stopped directly the boat reached a position just beyond that of "on her beam ends."
(4.) After the capsizing the motor started again at the second turn of the starting handle and worked well.

The above tests, which are probably the most severe that a motor has ever been subjected to, would seem to show clearly, that by the addition of comparatively very little weight (probably about a ton) to a Life-boat, a combination can be obtained which seems likely to prove of the greatest value in assisting either oars or sails in reaching a wreck, especially should the casualty be dead to windward. It is also interesting to note that, in the case of self-righting boats, the motor can be introduced without interfering with the self-righting qualities. For Life-boats kept afloat or on slipways, there is good reason, to hope that the introduction of the motor will be of the greatest benefit. With regard to boats launched from carriages from open beaches, lighter motors will be required; but such Life-boats are exceedingly liable to be thrown back when attempting to launch, and get heavily pounded on the beach; this and the additional risk of having the propeller damaged, would indicate that in the matter of motors, as in most other things, the Life-boat Institution must learn to walk before it can run.

Encouraged by the success of these tests, the Committee decided to further test the Life-boat by placing her ready or service at Newhaven, Sussex, during the coming autumn and winter, where it is earnestly hoped that she will continue to do as well as she has hitherto done. At any rate, very valuable information will be gained by these further tests, which cannot fail to be of use in deciding on the future position the motor is to occupy in the splendid fleet of Life-boats round our coast.

Taken from “The Lifeboat Journal” Number 218, November 1905.


THIS year has been one of exceptional interest with regard to the development of Marine Motors, and it will be satisfactory to the supporters of the ROYAL NATIONAL LIFE-BOAT INSTITUTION to know that the subject of placing motors in existing Life-boats and designing new Life-boats to carry them has occupied a very large part of the time of the Committee of Management and Officers.

It will be remembered that the first experiment made by the Institution in having a motor Life-boat was described in the Life-boat Journal in August, 1904 (No. 213, p. 247). The Life-boat referred to in that article was sent to Newhaven, Sussex, in November last year, where she won such golden opinions from the Coxswain and crew that, when she was transferred to Tynemouth as the Station Life-boat, the Newhaven men promptly asked to have their own Life-boat (a 37ft. by 9ft. Sin. Selfrighting boat) fitted with a motor. This was a most encouraging sign that the Institution was working on the right lines and that the efforts of the Committee and their Officers were being applied in a profitable direction. In July last it was decided, after the report of the Sub-Committee, specially appointed to consider the question of motor Life-boats, had been received, to order three more motors, and also that the new Life-boats for Fishguard, Stronsay, Stromness and Thurso should be specially designed as motor Life-boats. The three motors to be installed were as follows:—
The Walton-on-the-Naze Life-boat, of the Norfolk and Suffolk type, 43ft. by 12ft. 6in., to be fitted with a 4-cylinder " Blake" motor of 40 B.H.P., making 550 revolutions, and approximate weight of 16 cwt. Diameter of cylinder, 5¼ in., length of stroke, 6¼ in.

The Newhaven Life-boat, self-righting type, 37ft. by 9ft. 3in. to be fitted with a 4-cylinder " Thornycroft," 24 B.H.P., 1000 revolutions, 4¼ in. diameter of cylinder and 5in. stroke. Approximate weight, 8 cwt.

The late Ramsgate Life-boat, of selfrighting type, 42ft. by lift., to be fitted with a 4-cylinder " Briton" motor, 30 B.H.P., 900 revolutions, 5in. diameter of cylinder, 5in. length of stroke and approximate weight 8 cwt.

In each of the three boats reversing gear will be used, and not "reversing propellers," and it has been left to each firm to fit their own gear. Of course, fitting these Life-boats for motors entails considerable structural alterations, which have occupied a considerable time in carrying out, but as soon as all is completed, and the engines installed, a very interesting series of trials is anticipated. In the design of the new Life-boats for Stronsay, etc., it is arranged that the propellers are placed in the very best position for Life-boat work—that is to say, to have them far enough forward to prevent any possibility of " racing," or, in other words, coming out of the water when the boat is pitching heavily; also a hatch is provided over the propeller to give access to it to clear it should it get entangled with ropes or other matter.

It will be readily understood that the nature of the Institution's work demands the very greatest caution in starting on such a new line. If there should be any doubt on such a subject the contemporary events connected with motor boats built for pleasure are quite enough to show that, though the marine motor has come to stay, it, so far as this year's experience shows, has not reached that state of perfection as to be able to say expert management can be dispensed with. There is no doubt that there are many marine motors which practically can be run without any skilled assistance, but generally speaking they are not suitable for the Life – boat service.

One of the most advantageous developments of the use of marine motors is that relating to fishing boats. Lieutenant Mansfield Cuming, R.N., has furnished the Scottish Office with an extremely interesting report on this subject. With the concurrence of the Admiralty, he was requested to inquire and report on the whole subject, and for this purpose he first visited ports in Scotland and then Scandinavian and German ports in which motors had been successfully used in fishing boats. He found that this method of propulsion was in very general use in the countries he visited, and manufacturers had made a speciality of motor engines suitable for fishing boats. Two points had to be considered, first, as to the installation of motors in existing fishing boats ; and second, as to having specially-built boats for the purpose. Quoting from the report—the most important points to be considered were:
(1) Safety. (2) Reliability. (3) Ease of management. (4) Handiness of control. (5) Cost of working. (6) Original cost of installation. (7) General efficiency.

All these points are taken seriatim in the report, and (with the exception of No. 5, cost of working, which in the Life-boat service, on account of the very short time during the year when the engines would be working, need not be seriously considered) have their bearing on the Life-boat service.

The danger of explosion or from fire due to overheating is dwelt on, and it is pointed out that, unlike road motors, where any leakage of fuel drops on the road and evaporates, in a boat it finds its way into the bilge, and the fuel vapour being heavier than air may remain there some time and be liable to explosion. As a very small proportion of vapour when combined with air makes an explosive mixture, a leak so small as to be unnoticeable might be a source of danger. For these and other reasons, always remembering that Lieutenant Mansfield Cuming is dealing with fishing boats, he considers that volatile oils and spirits, such as petrol, gasoline, benzoline, alcohol, etc., are unsuitable, and he decided that it would be useless to consider motors designed to work with this fuel. His remarks on reliability are much to the point, and he considers the qualifications to be observed are as follows : quality of design, workmanship and material, absence of complications or numbers of small parts, slow running, efficient lubrication, absence of vibration, and protection of the internal parts from sea water—this last quite as applicable to a Life-boat as a fishing boat, for it frequently happens that there is not a dry spot on board, and the motor must be well cased in. Coming to " ease of control," here again there are some useful remarks advocating that the clutch lever, reversing gear, reversing lever and throttle valve should be brought within easy reach of the man steering.

Under the heading of General Efficiency there is much discussed which has considerable interest for those contemplating either building a motor-boat or adapting a boat already built. Such questions as the H.P. to be selected, the method of reversing, etc., etc., are touched on. The following remark is as applicable to Life-boat service as to fishing boats : " I consider that the average Scotch fisherman will have little difficulty in driving and managing a motor of low power, and no doubt, after handling, say, a 10 H.P. or 20 H.P. for some time, he would be competent to manage a more powerful engine. But there is considerable difference in the skill required to run a small engine or a big one, and I think it would be risking failure to commence the trial of this form of power by setting the men too difficult a task."

The report shows that the motors examined were of two classes—those driven by petrol and those consuming petroleum crude oil. Motors of the petrol description were examined chiefly to find out whether one could be adapted to use petroleum by altering the system of carburation or of finding a better form of reversing gear than was then on the market. Some interesting accounts were given of the experience of the captains of some of the vessels who had had motors under their observation for upwards of two years, and it came somewhat as a surprise to learn that some 600 Scandinavian fishing boats were fitted with motors.

As is known, Lieutenant Mansfield Cuming recommended that the " Dan " motor be tried, it in his opinion being the most suitable type for installing in a fishing boat, and having also the advantage of having had most satisfactory trials extending over a period of some years. This motor burns any ordinary commercial petroleum, such as "Royal Daylight," "Tea Rose," etc. As stated above, it must be remembered that the report only deals with motors as applied to fishing boats. For Life-boat work the motor recommended would not be suitable on account of its weight, dimensions, and also for the fact that it takes about twenty minutes before the engine can be started running.

This able report has, however, much of interest and much valuable information, apart from the question of adapting motors to fishing boats. For other commercial purposes the year has been prolific in the adaptation of marine motors. They have come into use both at home and abroad for passenger traffic, ferry boats, and barges, and one or two coasters have also appeared fitted with motors. It is, however, in the direction of yachts and other pleasure boats that the greatest development has taken place, and 1905 will be always remembered by those interested in this particular branch of the motor industry. Many motors have been installed for auxiliary power in sailing yachts, with, it is understood, very satisfactory results. Motor boats, pure and simple, although perhaps the application of these words is hardly appropriate, have certainly been much in evidence, and it would appear, generally speaking, that the design of the boat itself has not kept pace with the advance made in the engines. No doubt excellent fine-weather racing machines have been turned out, and these are the boats mostly before the public, but there are other classes of motor-boats not so prominent where the seaworthiness of the craft has been, as it always should be, the first consideration.

Perhaps the most noteworthy incidents connected with the motor-boat racing which have taken place were those which occurred in the race which took place in the Mediterranean from Algiers to Toulon after leaving Port Mahon. On this occasion it was only too apparent that the boats were not of a design fit to undertake such conditions of sea and weather likely to be encountered in the open sea. One can but admire the great courage of those (and one was a lady) who undertook such a dangerous task. It will be remembered that these boats were accompanied by French torpedo boats, and if it had not been for the skill shown by the officers in command of these vessels in rescuing the crews of the motor-boats and taking their craft in tow it is more than likely there would have been considerable loss of life.

The reliability trials held in the Solent and other places were also of deep interest, and no doubt will have considerable bearing on the future designs of engines and boats. An interesting novelty at these trials was the application of the use of suction gas to a marine motor in a boat designed and engined by Messrs. John I. Thornycroft and Co. Those who have had the opportunity of visiting the Naval Shipping and Fisheries Exhibition at Earl's Court, London, this year, must have been struck by the suction gas engines belonging to Messrs. Crossley, which were working there; the simplicity and economy claimed for them would apparently give them many advantages. To recapitulate all the important events of the year in which marine motors have figured would go far beyond the scope of this article. It must be evident to everyone who has spent any time by the sea or lakes and rivers this year that the motor-boat has indeed "arrived."

I would like to thank Chris Lambert for providing me with this information. Chris is a Deputy Launching Authority for the Tynemouth Lifeboat and Historian for the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade. The TVLB headquarters are at the 1887 built Tynemouth Watch House where you will find an exhibition on the Tynemouth and Cullercoats Lifeboats.

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