The Original Lifeboat Station
A lifeboat station was first established in Littlehampton in 1884, and the records show that the purpose built boathouse cost £300 and was located near what is now the Harbour Park entertainment site. In those days lifeboats relied on manpower for propulsion, with the crew rowing the lifeboat. Horses were used to tow the lifeboat from the boathouse to the launch site, which would be selected according to the location of the casualty, but often was inside the harbour, fairly close to what we now know as Nelson Steps. In 1903, a new boathouse was built at a cost of £240 to replace the first, which was surrendered so that a coastguard lookout could be built on the same site.
The lifeboat station was closed in 1921, partly because there was reduced shipping at the port, but also because a new lifeboat station was to be established at Selsey, to be equipped with a motor lifeboat. It is intriguing to note that a shortage of crew was also cited as a reason for closing the Littlehampton lifeboat station, so even at that time, there was a problem attracting sufficient numbers of volunteer crew.
The New Lifeboat Station
The modern day lifeboat station was established in 1967 to reflect the growth of marine leisure activities, when an emergency might require a less heavyweight approach than that available by using traditional lifeboats, and when fast response and speed were much more important. The new D-Class inshore lifeboat was the first to be funded by the Blue Peter appeal, which took place the year before. The original Blue Peter 1 was housed in a small boathouse, itself replaced a few years later with a more substantial one, which included the luxuries of a crew room and a loo.
The new Littlehampton Lifeboat Station quickly established itself, with an increasing number of service launches, and in May 1972 the original D-Class Blue Peter 1 was replaced by an Atlantic 21. The first boat was a trial prototype, which had been developed by the RNLI and Atlantic College at St Donats in south Wales. At that time, the concept of a solid hull combined with an inflatable sponson was entirely new, but the benefits of seakeeping characteristics associated with a rigid planing hull, surrounded by a huge fender which just happens to deflect spray as well, were enormous. RIBs are now such a common sight all around the coast, confirming the success of the concept not only for rescue purposes, but also as an all-round leisure and working craft.
The trial Atlantic 21 was replaced with one of the early production boats (B-504) which inherited the name of Blue Peter 1. Development continued, with most noticeably the addition of a cage at the stern, which incorporated the self-righting system. Another boat (B-517) arrived in July 1973 to become Blue Peter 1, only to be replaced a year later by a more powerful version (B-523) which remained the station boat until 1985. Further evolution has resulted in a new and longer type of boat, the Atlantic 75.
The current Blue Peter 1 (B-779), an Atlantic 75, arrived on station to coincide with the building of a shiny new boathouse, still at Fisherman’s Quay, but in a slightly different position to fit in with the recent waterside development in the area. The new boathouse provided the opportunity for Littlehampton to become a two-boat lifeboat station, with the arrival of a D-Class inshore lifeboat. The new D-Class, Spirit of Juniper, has been donated by the Campaign for Real Gin and was named in a ceremony at the boathouse on 21 May 2005.
The new boathouse is home to both lifeboats and their launching tractors. On the ground floor, it also houses a changing room, where drysuits, thermal clothing, lifejackets, helmets and gloves are stored in a dehumidifying atmosphere. There are also showers, and a workshop where we keep the mechanics locked away and ready for action.
Upstairs is a large crew room, which is used for meetings and training. The chart table is used to plot and plan the progress of the boats whether on exercise or service, and alongside are the marine radios used to monitor progress and to communicate directly with the boats. There is also an office for the LOM and DLAs. Two years ago we converted some of our storage space into a dedicated training room with extra chart tables, medical equipment and of course ropes so the boys and girls can practise tying their knots.