The Lifeboat’s Mission: To Row for the Children of the World

The crew of Skanör-Falsterbo Lifbåtsroddarelag rowing outside Skanör. Courtesy Skanör-Falsterbo Lifbåtsroddarelag’s website.

7 October 2016 

Göran R Buckhorn writes: 

One of Sweden’s largest charity organisations, Radiohjälpen, which is working closely with Swedish tv and radio, has started a charity project called ‘Världens Barn 2016’ [‘The Children of the World 2016’]. This is a big campaign for collecting aid for vulnerable children around the world.

Göta Kanal marked in blue.

Some famous Swedish sports stars – among them rower Lassi Karonen – and other celebrities have signed up to help to raise money for this noble cause, and right now they are rowing (and if possible, sailing) a 150-year-old lifeboat 190 km (118 miles) on Göta Kanal [Göta Canal], dividing up the stretch on several legs. Göta Kanal is a man-made canal constructed in the early 19 century from Göteborg [Gothenburg] on the west coast to the town of Söderköping on the Baltic Sea, in full a 614 km (382 miles) long waterway with 58 locks. The crew started to row on Monday and if everything goes according to plan, they will reach the ‘finish line’ in Söderköping today, Friday, which will be shown live on Swedish tv.

Before beginning their voyage, the ‘celebrities’ were trained by the lifeboat’s regular crew, which are also rowing along the 190 km.

This particular lifeboat, Lifbåt 416, has an interesting story. According to legend, sometime during the beginning of the 1860s, a Swedish crew saved an English ship crew in peril. Out of gratitude, Queen Victoria gave the Swedish King Charles XV a lifeboat built by Forrestt’s & Son, Limehouse in London. The construction is based on those from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) – about this organisation and lifesaving operations in Great Britain see Tim Koch’s brilliant article “For Those In Peril On The Sea”.

Life-Boat Builder Forrestt’s & Son, Limehouse in London. Courtesy Skanör-Falsterbo Lifbåtsroddarelag’s website.

Lifbåt 416, as she was called by the Swedes, is 9.84 metres long, 2.30 metres wide, depth is 0.5 metre, displacement ca. 3 ton, and there is room for up to 36 persons. She has ten oars, but can also be rigged with two masts; the sail area is approximately 20-square-metre, and she is easily doing 6-7 knots under sail.

Courtesy Skanör-Falsterbo Lifbåtsroddarelag’s website.

Unfortunately, as the paper work on Lifbåt 416 has been lost, the knowledge of the first years of the boat is lost to obscurity, but she probably came to Sweden between 1860 and 1864, to the Royal Navy Yard of Karlskrona on the Swedish east coast. In 1876, Lifbåt 416 was moved to the new lifesaving station in Helsingborg on the west coast of the southern province of Scania. In 1882, the lifesaving stations in Helsingborg and Skanör, located on the southwestern tip of Scania, swapped boats. However, in 1896, the lifesaving stations swapped their boats again. Two years later, Lifbåt 416 ended up in Skanör again.

Inspection of the Lifeboat crew in Skanör, around 1909. Courtesy Skanör-Falsterbo Lifbåtsroddarelag’s website.

During the period from 1879 and 1910, 91 people were saved by the crew of the lifesaving station in Skanör, 72 of them were saved by lifeboat. The crew at the lifesaving station were farmers and fishermen, who had signed a contract that, if called, they would man the lifeboat.

The last time Lifbåt 416 went out on a rescue mission was in December 1939. Two years later, in 1941, the lifeboat in Skanör was swapped out by a motor boat, and Lifbåt 416 ended up in a small museum in the neighbouring town of Falsterbo where she was kept outside. The lifesaving station in Skanör closed in 1958.

After 45 years in the open, Lifbåt 416 was in poor condition. In 1991, the museum’s management decided to restore the lifeboat, and, if possible, make her seaworthy again. In November that year, she was brought to a boat building company in Smygehamn to be restored. Lifbåt 416 was re-launched in April 1992 and sailed to Skanör. That year, a support group was established in Skanör, Skanör-Falsterbo Lifbåtsroddarelag [Skanör-Falsterbo Lifeboat Rowing Team], who keeps up the maintenance of the boat, but also rows and sails her on ‘field trips’ to different places to spread the boat’s history and the cultural value of this kind of vessel. Now and then, the crew also race against Danish lifeboats crews.

Lifbåt 416 is taken out of her boat shed in Skanör Harbour. Courtesy Skanör-Falsterbo Lifbåtsroddarelag’s website.
The Lifbåt’s crew practising in Skanör Harbour. Notice the pom-poms on the crew’s hats, green starboard and red port side. Courtesy Skanör-Falsterbo Lifbåtsroddarelag’s website.
Skanör-Falsterbo Lifbåtsroddarelag rowing on the canal in Copenhagen’s Nyhavn. Courtesy Skanör-Falsterbo Lifbåtsroddarelag’s website.

svenskroddcoverI had the great pleasure of meeting the crew in May 1995, when I was in Skanör to write an article about Lifbåt 416 for the Swedish rowing magazine, Svensk Rodd. On 1 May every year, the rowers of Skanör-Falsterbo Lifbåtsroddarelag take out their beautiful yellow boat from her ‘boat shed’, roll her down to the water and launch her, while the whole town of Skanör is there cheering them on. Then the crew rows around in the harbour – a nearly 25-year-old tradition loved and cherished by the townspeople of Skanör.

‘We regard Lifbåt 416 as something unique,’ said Johan Ullenby, spokesperson of the lifeboat rowers in Skanör, in an e-mail. ‘I believe we are the only group in the world maintaining and using a 150-year-old lifeboat’. Ullenby continued: ‘however, we are desperately looking for more information about our boat: when was it actually built by Forrestt’s and when did it come to Sweden?’

Maybe the HTBS readers have some information about Forrestt’s that could clarify the early history of Lifbåt 416? Please write a comment, or send your information to me, at gbuckhorn – at – gmail – dot – com

After years of saving lives at sea, the vessel has now, 150 years later, gone full circle by helping save the lives of children around the world – she is a remarkable boat, Lifbåt 416.

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