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.