A new home for RNLI’s Tower Lifeboat crews


The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) have four lifeboat stations on the River Thames and other stations around the Thames Estuary but Tower Lifeboat Station in Westminster is so busy that they have crews on station 24/7 to reduce response times (only 4 RNLI stations operate this way, the others being Chiswick and Gravesend on the Thames and the Humber crew at Spurn Point).

Original Tower Lifeboat Station at Waterloo Bridge with an E-Class lifeboat alongside

The station was initially established near Tower Bridge later moving to the site on the Northern bank of the river just downstream of Waterloo Bridge but the original name was retained. The current station has a long history of serving the Thames as it was originally a River Police station from 1874 being sold to the RNLI in 2004 and refurbished to be a lifeboat station, entering service in January 2006. Some 17 years later the old pier is no longer fit for purpose and so a project was started to construct a new, purpose designed, pier to replace the old one.

Tug GOLIATH arriving in London with the new base pontoon

The base pontoon for the new station was constructed by Harland & Wolff at their Appledore site in Devon and measures in at around 53m by 14m at a weight of approximately 450 tonnes. It was towed to the Royal Docks in London for fitting out by tug GOLIATH that coincidentally was also constructed at Appledore but back in 1956.

The lead contractor for the construction of the actual superstructure is Herbosch Kiere Marine Contractors Ltd who have been involved in numerous marine civil engineering projects along the Thames and they are partnering with the Livett’s Group for marine support.

Tug THAMES VIXEN & workboat ARTEMIS operated by Livett’s Group supporting the build project

Quite often with this type of project the work is either done in the KGV Lock or alongside on the Airport Cut berth as these areas have direct access for lorries and cranes but for this project most of the works are being done alongside the Dolphins in the KGV Dock which is a more constrained operating location. [Note: the plans for the significantly delayed redevelopment of Albert Island show that both the Lock-side and Airport Cut berths will have limited access for cranes or deliveries in the future which might reduce the appeal of the location and seems to go against the London Plan Blue Ribbon strategy!].

As a hobbyist photographer it is not always possible to capture all of the key stages of the project’s evolution so unfortunately I missed the construction of the building’s frame and installation of the insulation panels but did capture the end result which gave a good impression of the scale of the new station.

After constructing the building frame the pontoon was then moved back on to the Dolphin in KGV Dock for the next stage of the works.

Scaffolding going up around the structure – not the most accessible of worksites.

Work on the structure continued with the cutting out of the window and door apertures in the walls.

The wintery weather in mid-December gave the new structure a bit of a test – the roof held the weight of a covering of snow and the pontoon wasn’t affected by the water freezing around it (the later not likely to be an issue in the flowing waters of the Thames when the new station is in situ).

As work concluded for the holiday season a quick look at the building revealed that a lot more work had been completed on the walls and roof with a new layer of materials added and the door and window spaces boarded up against the weather although some with glazing installed are visible.

During January 2023 the works on the new station build have continued with at least one shuffle of the pontoon in to the KGV Lock to load material – the tug FELIX, operated by Thamescraft Drydocking, provided the motive power.

January also saw the Lifeboat Pier at Westminster being formally stood down from service with the Tower RNLI crews temporarily operating from HMS President RNR, this news being formally announced on 13th January.

On 24th January the old Pier was moved by tug from Westminster to the KGV Dock where works will be undertaken to convert it in to a floating recharging station for battery powered vessels as part of the Port of London Authority’s drive towards Net Zero through the use of alternative power solutions for vessels. The converted Pier will become one of a growing number of recharging points on the Thames.

A short video of the Pier being delivered to the KGV Dock can be seen below:

New pier build status as at 24/01/23

Further posts will be added as the project moves forward subject to externally noticeable changes being made.

The RNLI is a charity and the cost of replacing the lifeboat station is considerable so please consider supporting their appeal by clicking here.

A few more pictures from the project can be seen here.

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1 thought on “A new home for RNLI’s Tower Lifeboat crews

  1. Pingback: #dlr_blog review of 2022 | Dock, Lock and River Blog (#dlr_blog)

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