Certificate no 2181
Status Registered


Function Service Vessel
Subfunction Lifeboat
Location Chatham Historic Dockyard
Vessel type Oakley 37 ft Lifeboat
Current use Museum based
Available to hire No
Available for excursions No
Info required No


Builder Osbourne, William, Littlehampton
Built in 1963
Hull material
Rig None
Number of decks 1
Number of masts 0
Propulsion Motor
Number of engines 1
Primary engine type Diesel
Boiler type None
Boilermaker None


Breadth: Beam
11.50 feet (3.51 m)
Length: Overall
37.00 feet (11.28 m)
Tonnage: Gross
Air Draft
To be confirmed
3.40 feet (1.04 m)


THE WILL AND FANNY KIRBY has a proud history of service in North East England, first at Seaham, County Durham where she saved 66 lives and then at Flamborough on the North Yorkshire coast where she saved 43 lives.

The Oakley, named after the RNLI naval architect Richard Oakley, was the first class of wooden self-righting lifeboat to be built after the Second World War.  A very stable sea boat, the self-righting capacity was achieved through the installation of a water ballast transfer system. This allowed water to pass from tanks in the bottom of the hull to a tank in one side of the upper hull if the boat turned upside down. The sudden change in weight distribution forced the boat to self-right.

In November 1973, when stationed at Seaham, she was called out to help eighteen anglers stranded on the end of the pier, completely cut off in the heavy seas. Coxswain Arthur Farrington, manoeuvred THE WILL AND FANNY KIRBY into a corner under the pier and encouraged the anglers to jump one at a time into the lifeboat, a dangerous operation in which he sustained head injuries and a broken wrist. He was awarded the RNLI Bronze Medal for courage and gallantry.

In May 1985, in the dangerous waters near Flamborough Head, a fishing coble was crabbing too close to the cliffs. The weather was appalling, a near gale force 7 with a huge sea swell. THE WILL & FANNY KIRBY launched to guide the fisherman home but when they reached him they found that a rope caught in his propeller could not be cut out – it took two hours to slowly shepherd him to safety.

The vessel was sold out of service in 1994 and was put on display at RNLI, Historic Lifeboat Collection, Chatham Dockyard in 1996.

Key dates

  • 1963-1979

    Stationed at Seaham, County Durham, saving 66 lives

  • 1979

    Bronze medal awarded for assistance to catamaran TRUGANINI of Mostyn 

  • 1979-1982

    On Relief fleet

  • 1983-1993

    Stationed at Flamborough, North Yorkshire, saving 43 lives

  • 1994

    Sold out of service

  • 1996

    Put on display at RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection, Chatham Historic Dockyard

Own this vessel?

If you are the owner of this vessel and would like to provide more details or updated information, please contact info@nationalhistoricships.org.uk

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