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RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection

Chatham museum-The Lifeboat Gallery

The RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection at the Historic Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, boasts the UK’s largest collection of historic lifeboats, which together have saved hundreds of lives off the coasts of the UK and RoI. Discover their stories, and those of their fearless crews.

From an 1897 pulling and sailing lifeboat, to the familiar Arun class and Blue Peter inflatable inshore lifeboats, visitors can explore how lifeboats have evolved over the past century. Interactive displays, archive film and audio clips bring to life the moment of a launch, coping with violent seas and how technology has helped create ever safer and faster craft.

How to find us

The RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection
The Historic Dockyard
Chatham
Kent
ME4 4TZ

Telephone: 01634 823800

Opening times

Mid–February–31 ​October:

Open every day
10am–6pm
(or dusk if earlier)

November:​

Weekends only
10am–4pm

​December and January:

​Closed

  

Admission

Charges apply (concession, child and family tickets available).

Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.​

*Visitors can board these craft

  • St Cybl lifeboat St Cybl: a 52ft (15.8m) Barnett class, famed for her 1966 double gold medal service. 

                      A 52ft (15.8m) Barnett class, famed for her 1966 double gold medal service.
  • Will and Fanny Kirby lifeboat Will and Fanny Kirby: sectioned Oakley, showing the complex self-righting system and engine                        Sectioned Oakley, showing the complex self-righting system and engine.
  • Lizzie Porter lifeboat Lizzie Porter: a classic pulling and sailing lifeboat from 1909, twice awarded the RNLI Silver Medal and saviour of 77 lives. 

             A classic pulling and sailing lifeboat from 1909, twice awarded the RNLI Silver Medal and saviour of 77 lives
  • James Leath lifeboat* James Leath a pulling and sailing lifeboat. 

      A pulling and sailing lifeboat
  • Susan Ashley lifeboat Susan Ashley: a Watson motor cabin boat, built in 1948 for slipway and open beach launching. 

A Watson motor cabin boat, built in 1948 for slipway and open beach launching.
  • Helen Blake lifeboat Helen Blake lifeboat, a unique lifeboat design from 1938, designed to be used in confined waters                         A unique lifeboat design from 1938, designed to be used in confined waters.

The RNLI constantly strives to improve our boats. Over the years we have developed a huge variety of classes and types of boat to fit our lifesaving needs. 

As these lifeboats end their RNLI service life they sometimes pass into private ownership.

A number of historic lifeboats have been preserved by the RNLI. The majority of this collection is on display at RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection within Chatham Historic Dockyard.

Frequently Asked Questions

We are often asked about the preservation of historic vessels. There are many independent lifeboats being looked after by individuals, groups and museums – if you are looking for information regarding this, take a look at our list of frequently asked questions.

The RNLI works closely with National Historic Ships. Many of our historic lifeboats are listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels or the Small Boat Register. The RNLI recommends that anyone aiming to preserve a historic lifeboat does so with reference to the recommendations made in National Historic Ship’s ‘Conserving Historic Vessels’, which are available on the National Historic Ships website.

Further Information

The RNLI has a collection and archive dating back to 1824. If you wish to make an enquiry or visit the collection and archive please fill out our 'contact us' form.