Bridging the Gap

A Tower Bridge lift with HMS PRESIDENT through the bridge on the left. © Patricia Stoughton

Temporary move to HMS President for the RNLI Tower Station
After 150 years, the pontoon serving as a base for the Tower RNLI Station on the Thames beside Waterloo Bridge, has finally outlived its usefulness and the crews have moved temporarily to shore-based HMS President, the Royal Naval Reserve’s training facility in London, close to Tower Bridge. They will continue to maintain their vital full-time life-saving service on the Thames while their new station is completed and set in its place.

Volunteer crew member Hannah Liptrot; Thames Commander Chris Cotterill; Commander Greg Young, Commanding Officer of HMS PRESIDENT; and Thames Commander Stephen King. © RNLI
RNLI Tower Station by Waterloo Bridge from 2006 to 2023. © Patricia Stoughton

The old station will be floated down the river to be used by Thames Marine Services on the Monarch Pier, Erith, where it will serve as one of six electrical charging facilities on the Thames as part of Net Zero Marine Services.

Commander Greg Young, Commanding Officer of HMS PRESIDENT, with Thames Commander Stephen King. © RNLI

Commander Greg Young of the Royal Navy welcomed the arrival of the Tower crews saying: “We are delighted to host staff and volunteers of Tower RNLI as they continue to provide their hugely important services while waiting to return to their new base by Waterloo Bridge in the spring.”
In reply Thames Commander Stephen King expressed his gratitude “to HMS President for allowing us to continue our vital work uninterrupted.” For the wider public, he added: “We’d like to reassure people that we are continuing to run our lifesaving service as normal along the Thames – and to remember if they get into trouble to ring 999 and ask for the Coastguard. We are a 24-hour station ready to launch in 90 seconds.”

RNLI Lifeboat HURLEY BURLY at her temporary mooring, ready to launch within 90 seconds. © Patricia Stoughton
One of the familiar red Thames Rocket Ribs out on the water and RNLI Lifeboat HURLEY BURLY moored at her post, now part of the river scene by Tower Bridge. © Patricia Stoughton

In action straight away on January 9, their first day at HMS President, the Tower RNLI crew were called out three times. Since their creation in 2002, at the time of writing, they have launched 9,669 times saving the lives of 376 people in difficulty along the sixteen mile stretch of the tidal Thames they cover.

Tower lifeboat HEARN MEDICINE CHEST on a shout, March 7, 2022. © Patricia Stoughton

If you spend any time walking on the tidal Thames section of the Thames Path you are likely to see a flash of orange or hear a particular, deep throbbing note, quite unlike other boats, as one of the Thames lifeboats approaches at speed. They have been on active service here since 2002 after it was finally agreed to have a permanent RNLI presence on the tidal Thames following the Marchioness disaster on August 20, 1989, when fifty-one young party-goers were drowned. Of the four London RNLI Stations – Teddington, Chiswick, Tower, and Gravesend, Tower is the busiest with a crew on permanent stand-by, ready to launch at a moment’s notice.

Tower lifeboat HURLEY BURLY slicing along Lambeth reach, June 11, 2021. © Patricia Stoughton
Tower lifeboat HEARN MEDICINE CHEST approaching Lambeth Bridge at speed, October 24, 2022. © Patricia Stoughton

The new station will have up-to-date facilites such as “private, purpose-built spaces for casualty care, a drying room for kit and a new area for visitors.” Funding has come from numerous sources including the generous £3.5million contribution from the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Officer’s Association following the sale of the Naval Club in Mayfair.

View from HMS PRESIDENT, Tower RNLI’s temporary night-time view. © Chris Walker

Lastly, a reminder that if you are in trouble, or you see anyone in difficulty along the river, ring 999 and ask for the Coastguard, who will immediately organise a rescue.

Sources and further Information
Some history of Tower RNLI on the Central London Thames.
HMS President the largest Royal Naval Reserve unit in the country.
A new home for RNLI’s Tower Lifeboat crew – construction of the new station in progress, by Andrew Christy.
Information from Paul Dunt of the RNLI. Thanks to Chris Walker for permission to use his night-time photograph.