One day in 1789, a British ship was stranded on a sandbank. The conditions were so stormy that the crew could not be rescued—and that's no good! A committee formed to design and build a special boat that could deal with such a situation, in the future. It would be called a lifeboat.
A man named Henry Greathead designed a lifeboat but was apparently employed to build a lifeboat designed by the committee with some of his suggestions. The lifeboat had a curved keel that rose higher than most boats—the better to deal with the high waves of a storm. It could be rowed in either direction and could be steered by oar rather than by rudder. The sides were cased with four-inch-thick cork, covered with copper; the cork helped the boat be extremely buoyant and able to recover quickly from being upset.
The lifeboat, called the Original, was able to carry twelve people. On this day in 1790, she went on her first trial. It was quite successful and remained in service for 40 years.
Notice that the Original was not carried about on a ship but was instead kept in a harbor. She went to sea whenever a ship signaled distress.
Nowadays many large ships carry their own lifeboats onboard, and many lifeboats are inflatable. There are still many harbor-based lifeboats that are designed to be very speedy, to hold extra fuel reserves, and to stay afloat in bad weather. Of course up-to-date lifeboats use modern communication and data technologies to find ships and other watercraft in distress and to locate and rescue survivors.
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