Unsinkable! The Nicol Lifeboat

The Flensburg Maritime Museum in northern Germany has purchased the archive of Ernst Nicol, one of the pioneers in the invention of the completely enclosed lifeboats. The so-called Nicol-Liefeboat marked a revolution in the safety at sea. Today his idea of a completely enclosed hull is international standard on all cargo- and passenger vessels.

Ernst Nicol was born in 1923 in Flensburg. As a boy he discovered his fascination for ship building. He learnt ship-construction on the Flensburg shipyard. After World War II he became chief constructor on the Husum shipyard of the brothers Kröger. In this time Nicol was moved by the endless news about disasters at sea and the sinking of ships. As a shipbuilder he asked himself what he could do to improve the safety of lifeboats. He analysed that the main reason for death at sea was the open construction of the standard lifeboat where the refugees were without shelter from cold or heat and of course from the in-breaking waves. Inspired by a tin-can that he observed bobbing up and down in the Husum port he started constructing a new type of lifeboat with a completely enclosed hull. In 1954 Nicol built a first model of his new boat. Together with his wife Leni he spent all his free time for the development and marketing of the Nicol-Boat. In 1956  he hold a patent on his invention in ten countries. In 1957 the first Nicol-Boats were installed on German ships. In the following time he managed to convince German authorities of the advantages of his boats. The breakthrough came in 1960 when the international conference on the safety of life at sea held in London for the first time permitted completely enclosed lifeboats as appropriate means of rescue. But still it took more than two centuries and countless more disasters at sea since the 1983 amendments to SOLAS required all lifeboats on passenger ships and cargo vessels to be totally or partially enclosed. At this time Nicol’s patents had long run out. Today enclosed lifeboats are international standard. In 2013 Ernst Nicol was honoured with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Nicol’s hard and long struggle for more safety at sea is now well documented in the collection of the Flensburg Maritime Museum. Currently the temporary exhibition “Unsinkable” tells the story of Nicol’s ground-breaking invention. The exhibition which presents his construction plans, patents, models and various documents and photographs is on display until 30th October 2016. The only known remaining Nicol-Boat has been spotted at the Husum port – converted into a fishing boat. The Flensburg Maritime Museum is now trying to secure the boat for its future collection in order to reconstruct the original lifeboat. If you have any information or knowledge of Nicol-Lifeboats please contact the Flensburg Maritime Museum!

FlensExhibition: Unsinkbar. Nicol-Rettungsboote – until 30 October 2016 : open: Tues-Sun 10 am – 5 pm

burger Schifffahrtsmuseum, Schiffbrücke 39, 24939 Flensburg, Germany