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created 19/10/21

Life-Boats of the Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger (DGzRS)

in the German Maritime Museum, Bremerhaven

Photographed in 2011 before the closure of the museum for refurbishment

In the middle of the 19th century, around 50 ships per year were wrecked off the German North Sea islands. A lack of equipment  the only life-boat was stationed on the island Norderney - and the beach law that was still in use often prevented rescue measures. One of the accidents was the sinking of the JOHANNE in 1854 off Spiekeroog, which cost the life of 84 emigrants. Moved by such disasters, calls for the formation of a national rescue agency were raised. But it was not until 1861 that rescue associations were founded independently of one another in Emden, Bremerhaven and Hamburg. The first rescue stations were set up on island of Juist and Langeoog. A few years later, further private associations were founded on the Baltic coast between Kiel and Danzig.
To improve on the ineffctiveness of life-boat stations working in isolation, a meeting to found a unified German Society for the Rescue of Shipwrecked People (DGzRS) took place on May 29, 1865 in Kiel on the initiative of the Bremen Association. The aim was to standardise and improve the boats and other equipment and organise the nation-wide to collection of donations. The DGzRS to this date finances itself through donations only.
The association obtained in 1867 the patronage from the Prussian King Wilhelm I (from 1871 Emperor), which enticed more local rescue services to join. Ten years after it was founded, 91 stations were recorded and by 1887, the remaining rescue stations from Prussia to the Russian border could also be transferred to the DGzRS. In 1890, 25 years after it was founded, the company had 111 stations between Borkum and Nimmersatt and was divided into 58 district associations. The uniformly equipped network continued to grow to a total of 129 stations by 1910 and at that time had the largest expansion in its history.
Depending on the local situation the stations were either equipped with rowing or sailing life-boats initially. The first rowing boats were bought in England, but these wooden boats proved to be too heavy to be towed across the soft dune-belts and wide beaches along the German coasts. The DGzRS commissioned to boatbuilders, Kirchhoff in Stralsund at the Baltic and Havighorst in Bremen-Blumenthal at the North Sea, to develop a more suitable boat-type. They choose the Francis-system. Francis-boats are constructed hydraulically stamped panels of corrugated sheet-iron. These boats had large sealed air-tanks along the sides and in the bottom that were filled with cork. This made the boat floating even in a filled state, self-draining as the floor was above the load-line, and self-righting. The boats were kept in brick-sheds and transported across the beaches on specially designed launching carriages that were pulled by a team of eight horses with all the crew and equipment on board. The carriage is backed into the sea and the fore-carriage pin pulled, so that the rear-carriage transforms into a slip-way down which the boat glides into the surf.

Click on pictures for enlarged images. All images by the author, if not otherwise noted.
(Light conditions in the museum are not very conducive to taking photographs, which accounts for some the images being rather 'noisy')

Francis-system boat
Stamping panels
Carriage from Pâris
'Souvenirs de la Matine'

Life-boat transport
Life-boat launch

Rowing Life-Boat SPIEKEROOG


Rocket-Apparatus and Transport Carriage


FALCK, W.E. (2003): Die Francis-Boote der Deutschen Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger (DGzRS). - Das Logbuch, 39(1): 22-26, Köln (AK Historischer Schiffbau).

RABBEL, J. (2009): Vom Ruderboot zum Motorrettungsboot.- Das Logbuch, 45(2): 57-64, Köln (AK Historischer Schiffbau).

WIRZ, H. (1965): Seenot - Opfer - Siege, Ein Jahrhundert DGzRS.- 268 p., Bremen (Carl Schünemann).

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