The Walmer Inshore lifeboat at sea off Walmer during the lifeboat stations open day in 2012.
The D class lifeboat Duggie Rodbard is designed to work close to the shore and has a very shallow draught, which is particularly useful for beach and under-cliff operations. It is powered by a Mariner 50Hp outboard motor. The D class is best described as an inflatable; simply put, treated rubber tubes filled with air provide the main structure and buoyancy of the boat. This allows the boat to resist, or absorb, impact from objects much better than a rigid hull, and provides significant buoyancy and weight advantages over a more conventional boat design. The floor is solid, with an impact-absorbent mat for the crew to kneel on. The bow of the lifeboat has a watertight compartment for first aid equipment, flares, torches, a fire extinguisher, an oxygen cylinder for medical purposes, a GPS plotter, a VHF radio and a sea anchor.
The D class is launched by running its trailer to the water's edge. The boat is then removed from its trailer by shore helpers and crew, turned bow to the waves and dragged the last few feet to the water. The helmsman assesses the waves on the beach, waits for a 'smooth' and then instructs the crew to push or drag the lifeboat into the water fully. A good push will allow the helmsman and crew to jump in, and provide enough momentum to clear the boat from the shore and start the motor. Being left behind is not good karma, and this thought runs through many a probationer! The oars can be deployed if necessary and the boat rowed through the breakers, but usually the engine starts quickly and the oars are unnecessary.
Recovery normally involves a fast approach to the beach, judging waves correctly, leaving the boat high and dry. The engine is switched off and held out of the water to prevent propeller damage just before the beach is reached. Sometimes, in really calm weather, the boat can be driven onto the trailer while still in the water.