William & Kate Johnston, which is listed on the United Kingdom’s National Register of Historic Vessels, was launched in 1923. She was designed as a prototype lifeboat by James R. Barnett, Consulting Naval Architect to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. She was built, with double diagonal teak hull, by J. Samuel White and Co. at Cowes.


At the time of her launch she was the largest lifeboat in the world. (Length: 60 ft; Bre. 15 ft; Displacement 44.5 tons; cruising speed 9 knots; cruising radius 200 nautical miles.)

The William and Kate Johnston’s previous owners rigged her as a gaff ketch. She is currently undergoing extensive restoration. To help with this the current owners plan to charter the vessel for private cruising, training and corporate hospitality.

They also plan to make the boat available to teaching establishments, social groups and charities. To preserve in seagoing condition this exceptional prototype lifeboat, a rare vessel of considerable historic significance, they are also actively seeking sponsorship. Please contact us if you would like further information.



William & Kate Johnston was on station at New Brighton at the entrance to the River Mersey from 1923 until 1950.

She saved more than two hundred lives. Two of her Coxswains were awarded Silver Medals.

The vessel also received a special award from the Government of France for rescuing the French steamer Emile Delmas in the early hours of 24 November 1928. This is an exceptionally proud record.

The crew of the William & Kate Johnston shortly after the rescue of the French steamer Emile Delmas.
The lifeboat historian Nicholas Leach has written:

The 60ft Barnett class represent one of the best and most seaworthy designs ever built for the RNLI, as well as one of the most elegant …. With a displacement of forty tons and a draught of 4ft 6ins such a lifeboat had never before been built. Her size however meant that she was immediately limited to operating from stations where she could be kept permanently afloat ….

The class had flush decks, without sunken well or cockpits. Shelter for the crew, engine controls and engine room hatches were all mounted at deck level. For the first time two cabins were provided, one fore and one aft, which could hold between them about fifty people. As they were fitted with a stove and lavatory “for the first time it will be possible to give at once to the rescued shelter, warmth and warm food”. This was quite a bonus and rather a novelty for the time …. The innovation of shelters, as they were then, was quite novel for the RNLI as crews were expected to be able to cope easily with anything the sea threw at them more or less unprotected. Barnett considered this shelter useful as it “also affords considerable protection to the coxswain and other members of the crew stationed aft.”

The hull was constructed of teak, double skinned with eleven transverse and three longitudinal steel bulkheads which formed fifteen main water tight compartments. The idea of having two engines … impressed the RNLI’s technicians quite considerably, in fact so much so that only a jury rig was provided consisting of a small triangle fore lug and jib which could be set on a single mast … Although not self righting the hull was considered unsinkable, a word which has been bandied about when talking about lifeboat designs from before 1800 right up to the present day. Suffice to say she was as near to unsinkable as the skills of her time permitted. No expense was spared.”

(extracts from “The Largest Lifeboats in the World” by Nicholas Leach,1992)