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Launch & Recovery Equipment

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Talus MB-H amphibious tractor

Rhyl RNLI’s Mersey class lifeboat, Lil Cunningham 12-24, being launched by her launch and recovery tractor. Photo: Nathan Williams

Talus MB-H is a continuous track launch tractor which was specifically designed for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), to launch and recover lifeboats from beach-launched lifeboat stations.


The tractor is produced by the British company of Clayton Engineering Limited who are based in Knighton, Powys.


This amphibious tractor has been designed to launch carriage-launched lifeboats such as the Mersey-class all-weather lifeboat. The tractor can deploy its pay-load in to a sufficient depth of water to ensure a safe launching of the lifeboat. For recovery the lifeboat is winched from shallow water back onto its carriage allowing the tractor to haul the carriage back across the beach to its boathouse.


The vehicle has been designed to work over varying beach environments and can easily launch and recover lifeboats of up to 15 tonnes in weight. It will comfortably work at full power into up to 2.44 metres (8.0 ft) of calm water. The 3208 V8 Caterpillar diesel engine will generate power simultaneously for drive and for winching during its launch and recovery procedure. Control of the vehicle is achieved using a single joystick controller which controls the hydraulic transmission functions and has the added safety feature of a dead man pedal.


The tractor has a fully enclosed, waterproof, protective cockpit and has duplicated controls front and back for use when facing in either direction. In the event of the tractor becoming inoperable whilst in the water, it can be battened down and left on the sea bed in up to a depth of 9.0 metres (29.5 ft) without the entry of sea water. The tractor has been designed with extensive corrosion protection to protect from the very aggressive working environment of the sea water and beach conditions the tractor has to endure.


The tractor when tethered to a lifeboat carriage has the capability of towing and pulling such carriages at a top speed of up to 12.0 kilometres (7.5 mi). In addition to its original design intent, the tractor has the advantages of having a varied performance range and can be used for hauling, winching and heavy recovery operations either on dry land or in flood conditions. There are 30 Talus MB-H machines in the RNLI fleet in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.

Talus MB-4H amphibious tractor

Talus MB-4H amphibious tractor at Bundoran lifeboat station. Photo: RNLI/Bundoran

Talus MB-4H is a four-wheel-drive launch tractor which was specifically designed for the RNLI, to launch and recover inshore lifeboats from beach launched lifeboat stations. The Tractor is produced by the British company of Clayton Engineering Limited who are based in Knighton, Powys. The tractor plays an important role within the operations required for saving lives at sea.


Until the development of this tractor the RNLI had been relying on the adaptation of commercially available tractors which proved to be inefficient and costly. Clayton engineering worked in close liaison with the RNLI on a design brief specifically aimed at the ILB launch requirements. This brief included to be totally waterproof with an excellent ground clearance and the best steering ability possible.


Clayton's design team developed a prototype at their facilities in Knighton which was tried and tested at several lifeboat station locations around the country to evaluate its performance at as many different working environments as possible. Once these trials had been completed successfully the first tractor was sent to New Brighton on the Wirral, Merseyside. Arriving in November 1990 the tractor and its carriage were used to launch the stations new Atlantic 21 inshore lifeboat.


The MB-4H has been designed to work over varying beach environments and can easily launch and recover inshore lifeboats via an A85 DoDo (drive-on, drive-off) launch cradle/carriage. It will comfortably work at full power into up to 2 metres (6.6 ft) of calm water. The tractor is divided into two sections with the front section housing the power unit, hydraulic oil tank for the front axle, hydraulic pumps, cooling systems and the fuel tank. The rear section houses the rear axle, hydraulic winch with 100 metres of cable, the operator and his/her controls, batteries, electronic control panel, and the drive gear. The driver's seat within the cockpit can face forward or rear, with duplicated controls front and back, allowing the operator flexibility during deployment or retrieval of the DoDo trailer and payload. This allows the combination to drive to the launch site and then reverse round to launch the lifeboat into the sea. The rear-facing controls have the addition of a third foot pedal which is the dead-man control for the winch. The MB-4H has an automatic hydrostatic transmission which gives the tractor an ever-variable ground speed which corresponds to engine speed and ground/sea-bed conditions. To give the tractor excellent handling ability, the vehicle has a pivot steer type with all electrical, mechanical and hydraulic links passing through central wire-reinforced hose. The design allows the tractor to have a steering articulation of 40 degrees to the left or right and results in a turning circle of only ten metres.


The tractor's chassis and cockpit are water resistant and can be made water tight once the engine cooling side hatches have been closed on entering the water. The tractor will operate in broken water up to the depth of the air breather duct if required. The MB-4H's engine compartment is completely water tight. In the event of the tractor becoming in-operable whilst in the water, The operator can leave the cockpit via a roof hatch and the tractor can then be battened down and left on the sea bed in up to a depth of 4.0 metres (13.1 ft). In this situation the cab is designed to allow entry of sea water to prevent the tractor from floating away and causing only minimal damage to the vehicle, such as the wiper motors, exterior work lights etc. The tractor has been designed with extensive corrosion protection to protect from the very aggressive working environment of the sea water and beach conditions the tractor has to endure. The tractor, in most instances, is fully street legal with headlights, sidelights, brake lights and indicators. Work lights, blue flashing lights and a klaxon are also installed.

Talus MB-764 amphibious tractor

Talus MB764 tractor, TW13 at Red Bay. Photo: Albert Bridge

Talus MB-764 is a four-wheel drive launch tractor which was specifically designed for the RNLI, to launch and recover inflatable inshore lifeboats from beach and shorebased launched lifeboat stations. The Tractor is produced by the British company of Clayton Engineering Limited who are based in Knighton, Powys.


The MB-764 was the first launch tractor designed and developed in conjunction with the RNLI to launch the institutions smaller inshore inflatable lifeboat fleet. Clayton’s based the design of the MB-764 on tried and tested reliable County Commercial Cars conversions of a Ford tractor, which they marinised and modified to allow the tractor to wade safely to a depth of 1.5 m (59 in) in calm water. At the design and development stage the company presented two Prototype models. The first being the main take up by the RNLI. The second example was equipped with a propeller and fully amphibious. 


The first of these launch tractors went into service with the RNLI in 1975 and since then over 30 tractors have been operated by the Institute around the United Kingdom and Ireland. The basic design, operating and performance characteristics have not changed from the initial design concept vehicle, with the exception of the propelled wading capability.

Shannon Launch and Recovery System (SLARS)

Hoylake’s Shannon class lifeboat, Edmund Hawthorn Micklewood 13-06, being recovered by her launch and recovery tractor, Roland Hough. Photo: Dave James

The Shannon launch and recovery system has been developed to launch and recover the 18-tonne lifeboat from extremely rugged and harsh environments. The tractor and carriage can negotiate beaches with steep gradients and gullies, or travel long distances over flat, saturated sand or shingle.


Connected by a pivoting swan neck, hydraulic motors power both the tractor and the rear carriage. The system incorporates several unique and innovative features including a software-controlled four-track drive system that provides exceptional mobility.

The vehicle can be operated in calm water up to a depth of 2.4m, and shut down to withstand full submersion in water up to 9m deep if stranded on an incoming tide.


The Shannon-class all-weather lifeboat can be launched and recovered bow first. The cradle that carries the lifeboat rotates through 180º using a unique turntable feature built into, the carriage. This reduces the time and space needed to prepare for relaunch – a crucial factor if the Shannon is to receive more than one callout in a day.


Width 3.5m; Height 4m; weight 37 Tonnes; Winch pull 18.5 Tonnes; Engine Scania DC13 12.7 litre turbo-charged diesel, 331kW. Fuel 300l; Max speed 10mph.


Cab – The cab is built from composite materials and provides good visibility and driver protection. The door and hatch have watertight seals in case of immersion. Access to the cab and the surrounding walkway is provided by means of a ladder on the front of the tractor. There is space for the driver and 2 others. The driver can face forwards or backwards on a 180° swivel seat.


Controls – The controls and displays needed to operate and monitor the equipment are located in the cab. Some, like the joysticks, are sited on the driver’s seat arms to make the unit easier to drive. CCTV is provided to ensure some winching operations are conducted safely.


Running gear – The carriage and tractor have identical hydraulically-driven track systems with low maintenance rubber tracks and road wheels. The tracks pivot to allow them to paddle over undulating or uneven ground.


Winch – The winch is used to recover the lifeboat onto the cradle and can also be used for self-recovery of the unit. The winch rope is synthetic instead of the usual wire type. It is light and strong and will not whip or recoil if it were to break or snatch, making it safer for the shore crew.


Swan Neck – The swan neck connects the carriage to the tractor. This feature can angle the carriage for slipway launch and recovery. It is also used to reduce the overall height of the unit when entering or leaving the boathouse. The carriage swivels on a 5th-wheel as a normal articulated vehicle.


Carriage Foot – The carriage foot is used for emergency disconnection if there is a problem with the unit and is not normally used during launch and recovery. This is the silver curved piece at the foot of the swan neck.


Carriage unit – This allows the lifeboat to be launched and recovered bow first. The unit has a cradle to support the lifeboat. The rig can be tilted for launch and recovery by means of hydraulic rams on the swan neck and drawbar assembly. When on the carriage, the bow of the lifeboat extends 1m over the front of the cradle.


Cradle – Righting wheels lift the lifeboat from a heeled state (lying partially on it’s side), and protect the hull during recovery. Ratchet straps hold the boat as it is rotated. The bow strop is tightened so the wedges on the stern of the boat locate on the swan neck. The boat is now ready.