Port St Mary Lifeboat Station - History

Page Contents


Early History

Previous Lifeboats 1896 - 1976

Recent Lifeboats 1976 - 1998

The Early history

The RNLI established Port St Mary lifeboat Station in 1896 " in view of the number of shipwrecks in the area", completing the boathouse within two years, at a cost of 845.

Seventy years earlier, in 1826, Sir William Hillary had commissioned a lifeboat at Castletown, 3 miles east of Port St Mary. This followed the drowning of three Castletown fishermen, along with six crew of the Royal Navy brig of war HMS "Racehouse". During their fifth and final trip to the brig, wrecked on Langness Point, their small open boat was finally swamped in the atrocious conditions.

There are many other examples of selfless locals doing their best to save shipwrecked people: a significant number of incidents occuring at the Calf Sound, a notorious channel 2 1/2 miles WSW of Port St Mary, where currents of up to 9 knots regularly drew vulnerable sailing ships to their doom.

Notable rescues include , on the 8th December1834, the sloop "Friends" which lost two crew but had four saved by a local 'shore' boat from the Calf of Man. The 9th Annual Report of the newly formed lifeboat organisation (then know as the "Royal National Institution for the Preservation of life from Shipwreck") made note of this action and awarded the sum of seven pounds to the four crew of the shore boat. Then, on Christmas Eve, in 1852, the brig "Lily" was wrecked on Kitterland, an islet in the Sound. The master and four others were washed away and drowned, the eight remaining crew clinging to the rocks and badly maimed were rescued by a boat belonging to a local farmer. 36 hours later, the ship - which had been carrying upwards of 60 tons of gunpowder - exploded, killing 29 men, all but 4 were from Port St Mary and were mostly carpenters. Only one man survived. This tragedy left 72 orphans and the population was numbed by the loss. [ for further details go to the story of the Brig "Lily" as per a Illustrated London News article of January 1853 ].

It is a great tribute therefore that less than six years later, in April 1858, men from Port St Mary doggedly dragged two boats over the steep hills, 3 miles to the Sound to help the crew of the French schooner "Jeune St Charles", smashed to pieces on Thousla Rock, rescuing the captain and four of the six crew in the teeth of a SSE gale.

With the completion of the Alfred Pier (breakwater) in 1882, Port St Mary harbour was greatly improved, with fairly sheltered launching for small boats at all states of the tide. Although Castletown also had a new lifeboat and boathouse built in 1896, the tidal limitations to launching in the area, combined with the increase in traffic at the Alfred Pier, { Port St Mary was then home to a very large fleet of herring fishing boats called Nickie's }probably meant that Port St Mary became the preferred location for a lifeboat, and in 1922 the lifeboat station at Castletown was closed.

Further impetus to the placing of a lifeboat at Port St Mary arose from two rescues in Bay-ny-Carrickey performed by the Port Erin Lifeboat ( which had been established in 1882). The first to the schooner "Lyra" in 1888 wrecked on the Carrick, and another in 1895 to the SS "Nar" of Kings Lyn aground on the rocks behind the Alfred Pier. On both occassions, the lifeboat had been horse drawn from Port Erin to launch sites on the Port St Mary side of the southern peninsula.

Following these services, there was a suggestion from the RNLI in London that the Port Erin boat should be moved to Port St Mary. This idea met fierce opposition from the people of Port Erin who raised a large petition list. In the end a new station was established at Port St Mary and Port Erin retained their existing lifeboat.

In those days, over a century ago, Port St Mary lifeboat services were for the most part dealing with incidents along the rocky coast between Langness and the Calf of Man, with the occassional longer service under sail up to 20 miles from the port (some of these lasting up to 14 hours!). Nowadays, with the efficiency of modern communications, the powerful new lifeboats are often required to go further afield. Although it will be rarely called upon to do so, the new Trent Class lifeboat "Gough Ritchie II" is, in average conditions, capable of reaching any point in the north Irish Sea from Port St Mary within 2 hours; covering an area of some 4000 square miles.

Previous Lifeboats stationed at Port St Mary


RNLB James Stevens No.1, ON 401, was a 35ft ten-oared self-righting lifeboat kept on a carriage in the boathouse, but which could be horse drawn to other launching sites. The boat, provided by a legacy from Mr. James Stevens of Birmingham, cost 823 and was launched on 22 services saving 55 lives. In 1912, it was decided that launching would be henceforth be from the slipway only and the exercises with horses would be discountinued. In the same year, mains gas was laid into the boathouse for heat and lighting.

For details of callouts by the RNLB James Stevens No.1 follow this link past callouts - James Stevens


RNLB Marianne, ON 556 had been stationed at Newcastle, Co. Down where it had performed 6 services and saved 8 lives prior to her service at Port St Mary. She was the same class as the James Stevens No.1. She had been built in 1906 at Thames Ironworks and had been paid for from the legacy of Mr J.A. Hay of Cheltenham. Marianne was launched on only 4 services, saving 4 lives.

For details of callouts by the RNLB Marianne follow this link past callouts - Marianne


RNLB Sir Heath Harrison, ON 785 was the first motor lifeboat at the station. She was a 35ft 6in Liverpool type, self righting carriage boat weighing 7 tons. The hull was divided into 6 watertight compartments, took a crew of 7 and it was claimed, could carry 30 people in rough weather. The 35hp petrol engine gave her a top speed of 7 knots and a range of 100 miles. She was still rigged with sails, two pivoting centre-boards to improve her sailing qualities, and oars so as not to rely entirely on the "newfangled" machinery. Her cost of 3500 was the gift of Lady Mary Harrison of Liss, Hampshire. Sir Heath Harrison was launched 38 times on service, saving 31 lives.


For details of callouts by the RNLB Sir Heath Harrison follow this link past callouts- Sir Heath


In 1948, it was decided that the Sir Heath Harrison needed to be replaced with a larger class of lifeboat for the kind of services required from Port St Mary. Carriage boats were therefore abandoned in favour of afloat boats, to be kept at a permanent mooring in the relative shelter of the breakwater. Four lifeboats, all petrol engined Watsons over 40ft long, were stationed during these change over years, as follows: ON 674 - Newbons, ON 698 - K.T.S., ON 701 - N.T., and ON 753 Civil Service No.5.

The Newbons was previously the Sennen Cove lifeboat. Although not credited with saving any lives here, she did perform a service in September 1950 to the Liverpool University research vessel "William Herdman" which ran into difficulty "somewhere between Langness and Chickens Rock" in SSW hurricane force winds of 60 to 70 knots.. The boarding boat failed to reach the lifeboat at its mooring, so a larger fishing boat, from the inner harbour put the crew aboard. The casualty was eventually found almost embayed in shallow and rocky Castletown Bay, and was escorted to Port St Mary. Coxswain George Kelly reported conditions as "rough, with blinding rain. Seas indescribably violent", and the performance of the Newbons as "superb".

There were 13 launches with 6 lives saved in this period. 7 launches were by the Civil Service No.5, 3 by the K.T.S. and one each by Newbons and the N.T. The other service, in August 1954, was to take off a party of 12 anglers stranded by bad weather on the Calf of Man. This was done using ON 799 Helen Sutton, a 33ft Liverpool type which had been the Peel (IOM) lifeboat from 1937 to 1952. She was stored in the now empty Port St Mary lifeboathouse for a few years, and was ocassionally launched to give her a run. On this occassion, she happened to be afloat in the inner harbour and was pressed into service because the Civil Service No.5 was too big for the Calf landings, and conditions were too bad to tow the boarding boat there as a tender.

Civil Service No.5, which had previously been the Donaghadee lifeboat, was the first at Port St Mary fitted with a radio telephone.

Problems getting to the current lifeboat at the mooring in anything much over a full gale (force 8) still occur from time to time.

For details of callouts by these Lifeboats follow this link past callouts


RNLB R.A. Colby Cubbin No.2 , ON 930 was named by the Duchess of Kent on 25 July 1956. Bought at a cost of 33,829 from the legacy of Mrs EMM Gordon Cubbin of Douglas, Isle of Man, this 47ft Watson cabin motor lifeboat, weighed in at 22 tons. Her two 40hp Ferry diesel engines gave her a speed of 8.5 knots and a range of 195 miles. In this design, the engine room was one of 9 watertight compartments, the engines were waterproofed and would run with the engine room flooded. She had a crew of 8 and could carry 95 people aboard in rough weather. R.A. Colby Cubbin No.2 was launched on service 50 times, saving 39 lives.

For details of callouts by the R.A. Colby Cubbin No.2 follow the link below past callouts


1976-1998 RNLB Gough Ritchie

RNLB Gough Ritchie, ON 1051. This Arun class lifeboat was a gift to the RNLI from Mrs. Ann Ritchie of Baldrine , Isle of Man, costing around 300,000. She was one of the 54ft versions designed by GL Watson of Glasgow, built of GRP ( glass reinforced plastic ) and completed by William Osborne's shipyard at Littlehampton on the river Arun. This class of lifeboat was a quantum leap forward in design, the Gough Ritchie being the sixth in the series, hence the boats number 54-06. The twin six cylinder 460 hp, turbo charged Caterpillar diesel engines gave her a top speed of almost 19 knots and a range of 250 miles at 17.5 knots. The hull was divided into 26 watertight compartments and the boat well laid out for access to machinery and excellent accommodation for crew and survivors.

In May 1981, the Gough Ritchie and her crew conducted a gallant rescue of two yachstmen of the yacht "Melfort" as it broke up on a reef at the back of Derbyhaven breakwater. Full details of this rescue see Melfort

The Arun carried a range of up to date navigation and communication equipment and a 3.9m inflatable dingy (Y-boat) with a 15hp outboard motor which, weather permitting, could be sent into shallow or restricted waters. The Gough Ritchie was launched on 166 services, saving 63 lives. 54-06 continues to work as a lifeboat in Valparisio, Chile. In the autumn of 1998, she was purchased by the CVBS, a voluntary lifeboat service. Renamed "Captain Eduardo Simpson Roth", she is continuing to assist craft and save lives. See news page.

For details of callouts by the RNLB Gough Ritchie follow this link pastcalls Gough Ritchie


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( copyright Brian Kelly, PSM RNLI )

Edited 08 August 2000