MB lifeboat tractor - Llandudno 09 - IMG 8803

Lifeboat Tractor at Llandudno

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute in the UK (usually just called the RNLI) has a number of specially adapted tractors it uses to launch its lifeboats.[1] The lates of which are more like a submarine than a conventional tractor.


The RNLI which is a voluntary organisation that was started to rescue sailors and fishermen in trouble and is mainly staffed by volunteer crews based in fishing ports and harbors around the coast of the United Kingdom. The early boats were rowing boats that were pulled by hand to the nearest beach and launched just bu pushing them into the sea.

As the service developed lifeboat stations were built at some places with slipways so they could be launched straight into the sea. But at other locations with large tidal ranges and long beaches this was not possible and by the early 20th century they started to use tractors as some fishermen do to launch and recover the boats from the sea.

Later crawler tractors were used built by Roadless Traction Ltd and mased on Case Model Ls. A few example survive today. They then moved ont water proffed models tha could waid into deper swells based on Fowler Challenger tractors.

Other models were baed on County Commercial Cars conversions of Fords. Some of there had like a fish tank for the driver to sit in !! The first 2 of this style being developed by Mike Bigland for a boat yard in Abersoch based on Fordson E1A Major tractors.[2] Mike went on to be involed in designg later County based tractors such as the Ford County MB Talus-764 built around a County 764 with a fully enclosed cabin. These being built by MA Bigland (Preparations) Ltd

Conversions based on the Case 1150B were also used from the 1970s

The latest models are custom built by ? and run on rubber flexi-tracks and look like a small submersible.

The tractors all have a number TXX and currently theire have been around 100 in service over the years. The first conversion by Clayton Engineering of tractor T1 was in 1921. They are mainly replaced as operation requirements dictate - i.e when a newer boat is asigned to a station they also get a new tractor to suit it. The latest tractors under trial also have a powered carriage unit for the boat to improve traction, The latest boats are designed by the RNLI Engineering team and external consultants to meet the very onerous service requirements encountered at some locations to be able to launch in all weathers, based on the over 80 years experience of operating tractor launched boats.

From the RNLI Web site;

There are 27 RNLI tractors in the south west area*. There are 3 10-ton Talus tractors based at St Ives,Exmouth and Ilfracombe. The next biggest vehicle is the MB4H hydrostatic tractor of which there are three at Looe, Newquay and Burnham on Sea. The RNLI has two Case 1150 track vehicles at Clovelly and Minehead and a beach clearing FL145 Fiat Hitachi at Clovelly. Six marinised County Tractors serve the lifeboat stations at Mudeford and Lyme Regis in Dorset, St Catherine’s in Jersey, Westonsuper Mare, Appledore and Penlee. Lifeboats at eight stations rely on the use of Agricultural tractors of different sizes and these are Exmouth, Teignmouth,Dart,Ilfracombe, Appledore,Rock,St Agnes and Sennen Cove. There are also three Loglogic Softrack’s at Bude,Burnham on Sea and Weston super Mare.[3]

Supercat tractorsEdit

In 2013 the first of the new Supercat lifeboat tractors will enter service with a new launching recovery trailer system custem designed for the latest shore launched lifeboats. The new tractor has been under development for several years.

Tractors listEdit

Former RNLI tractorsEdit

A number of these survive in preservation

In-service RNLI tractorsEdit


Add photos here

Lifeboat tractors
  • front drive & 'suspension' detail
  • Rear track tensioning system
  • Early waterproof lifeboat tractor based on a Fowler Challenger tractor
    (Note: waterproof covers removed for access to engine)
  • View of the recovery winch on a Fowler lifeboat tractor
  • Talus MB-H - T99 at Hoylake on The Wirral
  • Talus MB-H on slipway at Newcastle

See alsoEdit


Article part based on a discussion[1] on the British Construction Equipment Forum -

External linksEdit

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