The Prototype of a New Class

In June 1924 the Prudential Assurance Company of London presented the Royal National Life-boat Institution with a cheque for £2,000. This was the first instalment of a sum of approximately £10,000 which the company presented to the R.N.L.I as a gift to mark their Centenary. From this gift a motor life-boat was to be built and named the ‘Prudential’ in accordance with the Company’s wishes.

Life-boat No. 697 was the resulting boat and she was unique in many ways, being the prototype of a new class specifically intended for operating in estuaries. As she was allocated to the Ramsgate station, being the prototype, the class became known as the ‘Ramsgate’ class, although it is thought that there were only  two others built of this type, and they were twin engine/prop.

‘Prudential’ was built in 1925 by  the firm of Samuel E Saunders Ltd at their West Cowes boatyard on the Isle of Wight. Her hull was of double diagonal teak construction and her dimensions were 48ft 6ins length, 13ft breadth and a draft of 3ft 10”, excluding her 5ft 6ins drop keel. She was powered by  a 76hp Weyburn DE 6-cylinder petrol engine which gave her a maximum speed of just over 8 knots. The engine was so constructed that in the event of it being totally submerged it would still function. Six  oars were also carried as well as standing lug, mizzen and jib sails. Without any  gear or her crew of nine aboard she weighed 19.65 tons and her displacement was 21.8 tons. She cost a total of £8417-8s-6d.

After a sea trial at East Cowes on 20th November 1925 she was sent to Ramsgate to be kept on a swinging mooring and on 24th April 1926, witnessed by  thousands of spectators and with the harbour decorated with flags and bunting, the official naming honours were performed by Mrs Horne, the wife of the deputy Chairman of the Prudential Assurance Co.

Service Career at Ramsgate

The Prudential rescued a total of 330 souls during normal service in her 28 years at Ramsgate, many of them on the Goodwin sands. Notable vessels attended included, in 1926, the French steam trawler ‘Jubarte’, when both vessel and crew of 16 were saved, and the ‘S.S. Falcon’, ablaze from stem to stern off Dover, where she rescued the captain and crew. In 1928, another French steam trawler, ‘Cyclone’, was rescued along with her 16 man crew. In 1932 she saved 9 crew from the Grimsby steam trawler ‘Othello’.

At the beginning of the war she saved 31 lives from the 5182 ton Antwerp steamship ‘Kabinda’, broken in half on the Goodwins and 17lives from the Sunderland steamship ‘Ashley’.  Just days after Dunkirk  she saved 68 people from two French motor boats and 31 from the London steamship ‘Harcola’.

The Prudential had the privilege, before being retired out of service, of being the Flagship of the Life-boat Division Commodore, Commander E W Middleton, as one of four life-boats taking part in the Spithead Naval Review taken by H. M.Queen Elizabeth II on 15th June 1953; fine recognition of the boat’s 28 years in service.