End of an era for Margate RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat Leonard Kent

Margate all-weather lifeboat Leonard Kent heads for Ramsgate escorted by Ramsgate lifeboat, Ramsgate inshore lifeboat and Margate’s new B-class inshore lifeboat (RNLI Margate)

Margate RNLI has bid farewell to its all-weather lifeboat ‘Leonard Kent’ which has retired after nearly 30 years of active service.

In May 1992 Margate’s RNLB Leonard Kent was named by HRH Princess Alexandra and the Mersey class all-weather lifeboat has served the town faithfully ever since.

The RNLI says it was nearing the end of its service life and following a routine coast review the decision was made to replace the all-weather lifeboat with a B-class inshore lifeboat.

With the replacement lifeboat’s entry into service, crew members past and present, station officials, fundraisers and supporters gathered today (April 30) to witness Leonard Kent’s last launch before its retirement.

Margate RNLI all-weather lifeboat ‘Leonard Kent’ outside the lifeboat station (RNLI Margate)

Manned by crew members from Margate, the lifeboat set out for Ramsgate on the first leg of its passage to Poole where it will then hopefully start a new chapter in its career outside of the RNLI.

During its time at Margate, Leonard Kent launched on 419 occasions saved 21 lives and aided 599 people. In 1999, along with RNLI lifeboats from Ramsgate and Dover, Leonard Kent was on service for 32 hours following a collision between a container vessel and cruise ship which led to a fierce fire raging for five days on the container vessel.

Photo David Townsend

It was believed to be the longest service attended by a lifeboat from Margate since RNLB The Lord Southborough (Civil Service No.1) took part in the Dunkirk evacuation in May 1940.

Earlier in 1996, and at the other end of the scale, Leonard Kent took part in a night-time search after a man failed to emerge from a late-night swim off Cliftonville. After around an hour of searching along with the inshore lifeboat, a rescue helicopter and Ramsgate RNLI inshore lifeboat and with hope fading fast, a sharp-eyed crewman on the lifeboat briefly caught sight of the casualty’s head in the lifeboat’s searchlight beam and he was quickly recovered.

Margate all-weather lifeboat Leonard Kent prepares to launch for the final time (RNLI Margate)

He was over half a mile offshore at the time and apart from the effects of cold was none the worse for wear. He walked away unaware of his lucky escape and following his rescue the coxswain always considered Leonard Kent to be ‘a lucky boat’ for anyone in need of assistance off Margate.

Since the decision, the volunteer crew have undertaken an intensive programme of transition training and assessments for the new lifeboat. This has mostly taken place at Ramsgate with the help of colleagues from their own lifeboat station and other neighbouring stations operating a similar lifeboat. Training included launch and recovery procedures at Margate.

The new Atlantic 85 inshore boat. Photo RNLI

The station has been allocated a B-class lifeboat from the RNLI’s relief fleet which will operate for a period before a brand-new boat, built especially for the station, takes up its role at Margate later this year. It will operate alongside Margate’s existing D-class inshore lifeboat.

Peter Barker, Lifeboat Press Officer, RNLI Margate said: “Since the decision to replace the all-weather lifeboat the crew have worked hard training for the new class of boat, at times with restrictions due to Covid-19, a period throughout which full operational lifeboat cover at Margate has been maintained.

Photo David Townsend

“The commitment of the volunteer crew has shown that whatever the lifesaving provision, they will maintain the 160-year-old tradition of being part of the local community, saving lives, and assisting those in the waters around Thanet. We ask the community to support us.”

Margate RNLI need to replace its Lifeboat station. The RNLI branch had previously made a planning application for a new boathouse on the Sands but these were put on the backburner in 2016 amid numerous objections. A lease for the current site was due to expire this year.


  1. In 1999 it aided 599 people in a collision so tomorrow the same thing happens. Sorry your dead. Such a sad loss for Margate seafarers. Another RNLI mistake. Bigger container ships and cruise ships and just an inshore lifeboat. Shame the RNLI blame the local council instead of taking the responsibility themselves.

    • 599 lives saved in 30 years, not just 1999 😉

      Fact is their lease runs out in a year, they applied for permission to build a new facility, the usual suspects decided to oppose said application, and then go on to criticise the RNLI when they act appropriately given the facilities available.

      If Thanet wants nice things, several things need to change

      1. Stop holding onto past glories that are no longer viable (Manston).

      2. Stop objecting to EVERY new idea, upgrade, update or offer of progress (examples far to numerous go mention).

    • Shame the RNLI is completely funded by public donations and this decision has nothing to do with the council.
      It might be worth noting that the new boat is much faster and quicker to launch and will be more efficient at dealing with 95% of the emergencies that have occurred in the last 30 years
      For the far out at sea emergencies there will still be the all weather Ramsgate and Herne Bay lifeboats which, taking into account the launch time, would get there in about the same time as the Margate boat.
      The RNLI’s capabilities are not being compromised by this, they are just modernising their fleet to enable them to deal with the vast majority of emergencies quicker and more efficiently.

      • Purely for the record and to avoid confusion, there is no lifeboat at Herne Bay – there is a B-class inshore lifeboat at Whitstable and an all-weather lifeboat at Sheerness.

      • Purely for the record and to avoid confusion, there is no lifeboat at Herne Bay – there is a B-class inshore lifeboat at Whitstable and an all-weather lifeboat at Sheerness

      • There is no lifeboat at Herne Bay – there is a boat, similar to Margate’s replacement at Whitstable. Others are located at Walmer and Dover.

  2. It is a shame that for the first time Margate will be without a permanent All Weather Boat that can pick up multiple casualties from ships miles off the coast. We have to put our faith in the hands of the RNLI that the new faster inshore boat will save as many lives of those in peril. Without which many will be sadly in danger on our patch of coastline.
    I hope a piece of shoreline for the new lifeboat station can be found soon. TDC should be authorising this ASAP.

    • There is a lifeboat that can pick up multiple casualties- it happens to be in Ramsgate. The boat there is permanently in the water, so can be underway far more quickly than a boat requiring a beach launch.
      Modern cargo ships have crews of a dozen or so people, well within the capacity of an AWL.
      I have no doubt that the RNLI have made the correct decision. What benefit would it be to them to do otherwise?

  3. The RNLI is a charity and as such is only responsible to it members, like the RSPCA! They will spend their donations as they see fit!

  4. Over 4 decades ago I was working off shore for the government, and one day whilst in a 9 man RIB the engine failed! We were in Force 6 weather conditions, and had Coastguard clearance, but the boat overturned! I was washed up on shore, after being half buried in beach shingle, and spent two years recovering from spine injuries! I hope these new replacement RIB’s have come a long way since the 70’s, but operating above Force 6 to my mind should be avoided!

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