Speed and safety at sea: a Derry man's design

Peter Eyre with the Shannon prototype
Image caption Peter Eyre with the Shannon prototype

Designed by a young man from Londonderry in his spare time, the RNLI's most advanced class of lifeboat is almost ready to take to the rough seas.

The Shannon is almost 50% faster than the lifeboats it will replace.

It was designed to save lives and the man who initiated its development was Peter Eyre.

Four years ago, at the age of 24, he set out to find an existing hull formula that would better the RNLI's fleet.

When he could not find one, he decided to draw-up some ideas himself.

"I was doing that in my spare time but it soon became my day job when my boss saw what I was doing," he said.

"He could see I was working on something and encouraged me to continue."

The charity estimates the new lifeboats will rescue over 56,000 people and save the lives of over 1,500 in its lifetime.

'Perfect sense'

Named after the Irish River Shannon, the story of this lifeboat begins on the shores of Lough Swilly and in the classrooms of Foyle and Londonderry College, where their designer spent his younger days.

"Even from an early age I knew I was going to be an engineer and Foyle College was great with their technology department and hands-on experience," said Peter.

"The other side was sailing and being close to the sea - I spent all my summers and every spare moment on the sea at Lough Swilly."

The two had to be combined he said, so it made 'perfect sense' to study Ship Science at the University of Southhampton and from there to begin a career at RNLI.

Developing the design was just the beginning of Peter's work. The construction phase and a period of extensive trials followed.

Image caption The Shannon prototype during trials in rough seas

That continues today even after the boat's launch in February.

Around the coasts of the UK and Ireland, the prototype of the Shannon class lifeboat is undergoing sea trials.

The first lifeboat is expected to go into service in 2013.

"We've had a huge team of engineers," said Peter, "and we had to set out testing the design to prove all the systems were working."

"I'm delighted to report that from day one the boat has performed as expected and even exceeded expectation - you just have to look at the faces of the crew when they step off it every day."

Speed and safety are essential to saving lives at sea, so what is it about the Shannon that makes it so advanced in its field?

'Sharp entry'

"The key to getting there fast in rough conditions is keeping the crew safe, so major effort has gone into the design to make sure that in rough seas the boat can handle it and keep the crew safe," Peter explained.

"The shape of the hull is very important. We have a very fine boat, a steep section so that it makes sharp entry and does not slam when it goes into the water."

The boat has several other features to keep the crew safe including suspension seats that protect them from high acceleration and a facility to operate the boat from their seats so that they do not have to get up and walk about in difficult conditions.

Over 50 new Shannon lifeboats will need to be built within the next 10 years to replace the older classes and Peter's time is now spent on ensuring they are produced as efficiently as possible.

To have the boat named after an Irish river is a source of pride to him and the moment it first goes out on a service will be a proud moment for his parents.

However, this naval architect feels his achievement will only hit home on the first day a life is saved by a crew on a Shannon lifeboat.