The world’s oldest surviving lifeboat has made its first journey for 55 years, temporarily leaving her home in Redcar to undergo a programme of sympathetic conservation, preserving her structural integrity for generations to come.

As part of a project six years in the planning, Redcar’s historic Zetland Lifeboat was loaded onto a Low Loader provided by Richmond haulage company, G C S Johnson Ltd, and transported to AV Dawson Ltd on the banks of the River Tees, where the conservation work will take place.

Undertaken by respected Redcar boat builder, Tony Young, the project, which is conservation rather than restoration, will be based on the survey and report of a marine surveyor recommended by National Historic Ships UK.  It will return to its boathouse at the Zetland Lifeboat Museum and Redcar Heritage Centre, ready for when the venue reopens in Spring 2019.

The Zetland Lifeboat was built in 1802 in South Shields and purchased by the people of Redcar.  She went on to see 62 years of service, saving more than 500 lives before she was retired in 1864.  The lifeboat was brought out of retirement to effect one last rescue in 1880 when the brig ‘Luna’ breached Redcar pier – all seven members of the vessel’s crew were saved.

The boat has laid in its current boathouse at the Zetland Lifeboat Museum since 1907.  This will be the first time she has left the museum since 1963 when the Zetland was the centrepiece of the ninth International Lifeboat Conference in Leith, Scotland.

The project has been organised by the Friends of Zetland Lifeboat, a registered charity, which is made up of a strong crew of dedicated volunteers committed to conserving her for another 200 years. The conservation has been made possible by fundraising and donations by the charity’s supporters.

Zetland Lifeboat Museum chair, Janette Picknett, said: “This is a project six years in the planning that will preserve the Zetland Lifeboat for many future generations to enjoy.  It was strange to see her leave the museum, but we know she will be back here soon thanks to Tony Young’s boatbuilding expertise. The boat is mostly sound, and we will be keeping as much of the original construction as we possibly can. We will only be undertaking repairs where they are needed to maintain structural integrity, such as replacing any decayed wood. Beyond that, the boat will receive a new coat of historically appropriate paint. The Zetland has scars and old repairs that bear witness to her many decades of life-saving work in Redcar, and it’s essential that her unique character is preserved.”

Janette added: “We are very grateful to AV Dawson Ltd, Johnsons Haulage and Tony Young for all their help. We’d also like to thank Scott Bros Ltd for assistance given in planning the move. Finally, many thanks to the Museum Committee and Redcar & Cleveland Council for their hard work in bringing this project to fruition.”

Museum Secretary, Jim Veitch, said: “National Historic Ships UK has registers that contain approximately 1,300 vessels. Within this, 200 of the most significant vessels form the National Historic Fleet, of which the Zetland Lifeboat is a member. This illustrates how important she is, both nationally and internationally.”

Gary Dawson, Managing Director, AV Dawson Ltd, said: “This is a very special project and one that is of huge historical importance; when it was brought to our attention that they were struggling to find a warehouse with an overhead crane in order to carry out their conservation project we were more than happy to offer one of ours. It’s quite apt that the oldest lifeboat in the world now comes to one of the oldest quaysides on the Tees to be restored and conserved for the enjoyment of many generations to come.”

Pictured: (L-R) David Pearson Arthur Smith (Zetland Museum Curator) Andrew Watkins, AV Dawson operations Director, Jim Veitch (Zetland Museum Secretary) Janette Picknett (Zetland Museum Chairperson) Martyn Johnson, George Cuthbert, Philip Boville (Zetland Museum Treasurer)