The Sir Samuel Kelly A full history of the Sir Samuel Kelly Lifeboat.


  • 1867 – Samuel Kelly is born.
  • 1937 – Sir Samuel Kelly dies.
  • 1950 – Sir Samuel Kelly Lifeboat built on the Isle of Wight
  • 1951 – Arrives at Donaghadee
  • 1953 – Saves 33 during Princess Victoria Disaster
  • 1976 – Moved to the reserve fleet
  • 1979 – Part of the rescue operation at The Fastnet Yacht Race
  • 1979 – Retirement
A Brief History
The Sir Samuel Kelly Lifeboat arriving in Donaghadee, 1950.

The Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat is an important part of Ireland’s maritime heritage and is on the UK’s National Historic Ships register. It was named after the Belfast coal importer and philanthropist who died in 1937. It was built by J Samuel White & Co at Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1950.

The Watson class lifeboat was stationed at Donaghadee from 1951 until 1976 then was part of the RNLI reserve fleet at Courtmacsherry, Co Cork, until retirement in 1979. An RNLI bravery medal and a British Empire Medal were awarded to the Kelly’s coxswain Hugh Nelson for his role in saving 33 from the Princess Victoria in 1953. The lifeboat was purchased by the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and leased to the steering group and the SSK Project.

Rescue Operations

1979: Fastnet Yacht Race Tragedy

1979: Fastnet Yacht Race Tragedy

Sir Samuel Kelly Log Book

Extract: Donagahdee Lifeboat 100 Years of Service contemporary logs compiled and edited by William Lennon, BEM. Ballyhay Books, 2009. With kind permission of the author and publisher.