Airfix 1/72 Severn Class Lifeboat

KIT #: 07280
PRICE: Around €20.00
DECALS: Several options
REVIEWER: Frank Spahr


I won´t enter any discussions on the actual length of the British coast here. Benoit Mandelbrot has shown that the answer is far more complex than us mere ordinary minds would ever dream of. Suffice it to say that it is 

-         very long, especially for an island that size

-         very scenic and beautiful and

-         very dangerous for ships and boats,

-         especially in foul weather (which is rarer than prejudice has it, but not uncommon either)

 As in Denmark or Germany, to name just a few neighboring countries, there came a time when the frequent shipwrecks were not only regarded as a welcome additional income for impoverished coastal dwellers, but also as cases of human suffering involving heavy loss of life and property. So charitable organizations were founded to provide disaster relief. Lifeboats were constructed, manned by locals, that set out to sea when everyone else sought shelter in port. In time, vessels and techniques were improved, but to this day those serving on the lifeboats – mostly volunteers – risk their own lives to save others, and sometimes they lose it. Their service to the community should be held in the highest regard.

 In the UK, the lifeboat service is provided by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution RNLI. Founded in 1854, the RNLI today operates 332 lifeboats of varying sizes from 233 lifeboat stations, manned with 4,600 nautical personnel, mostly volunteers. The rugged nature of the British coast necessitates the use of smaller vessels than in Germany, and most of them can be used from slipways or even trailers.

 The currently largest class of RNLI lifeboats is the Severn class. Introduced in 1996 and built until 2003, they are designed to be used under virtually all weather conditions. Their size precludes their being slipped, hence they are stationed in ports. In all, 46 of the vessels have been built by Green Marine of Lymington, Hampshire, a yard specializing in lifeboats. Built with a very strong fibre reinforced composite hull, the Severns sport many improvements and refinements learned from their predecessors, and from crews´ experiences. They can stay afloat with two of their five compartments flooded, they have comprehensive navigational and communications equipment, their hull form eases taking survivors on board, they are equipped with an inflatable boat for operations in shallow waters, and their propulsion systems are designed for exceptional ruggedness and maneouvrability. Their successors, the Tamar class, have been designed for similar performance, yet slightly smaller to operate from slipways.

The class´ namesake, the river Severn, is the UK´s longest river at 220 miles. Its source is in Wales at Plynlimon, and its mouth is the Severn Estuary at the Bristol Channel. The considerable tidal range results in tidal waves occasionally strong enough to surf on – the so-called Severn Bore . Amongst other points of interest, Ironbridge, a World Heritage Site and the world´s first cast iron arched bridge, spans the Severn and is well worth visiting.

Technical data (Wikipedia)


55 ft 9 in (17 m)


18 ft 1 in (5,5 m)


4 ft 6 in (1,38 m)


40 tons (36,3 t)


2 × Caterpillar 3412 TA diesel engines, 1,250 hp (932 kW) each

Top speed

25 kn (45 km/h)


250 sm (460 km)



Capacity when self righting /not self righting

47 / 185 survivors


No need to go into the colourful and troubled history of Airfix, and no need mentioning how rare actual new mold Airfix kits have been over the last few decades. This kit was designed before and produced during and after the company´s takeover by Hornby, and luckily it is actually available in numbers, both on its own and in a combo with Airfix´ Sea King helicopter.

The sturdy box is packed tightly with four sprues of light grey and one of clear styrene. A comprehensive instruction booklet with the cover page printed in colour and a decal sheet (uncommonly in register) complete the contents. Sadly, the clear parts are not packed separately and hence arrived with scratches. Apart from that, they are basically clear and usable, yet a bit on the thick side. Generally speaking, the styrene parts are well-molded, yet not free from some annoying ejector pin marks, and not without sink marks in visible areas. Compared with other recent kits, they do lack the crispness and fine detail nowadays found in top manufacturers´ kits. Some parts suffer from unwieldy sprue gates that make them hard to remove without damage. Another annoying feature is that the parts are spread among the sprues virtually as arbitrarily as possible. Due to this lack of foresight, the modeler will spend considerable time hunting through the sprues for the next part needed. A more logical layout would be very beneficial.

Speaking of logic, the instructions should be taken with a sizable pinch of salt. Even though very well done graphically, they are not always unambigious, and – most important to me – the assembly sequence given is not what I would recommend. There are several steps where sticking to the instructions will lead to frustration and extra work. The idea of including some photos of actual vessels into the instructions is a good one. All colour callouts are given in Humbrol numbers only, without any colour descriptions. That could be improved, both in giving colour names as in giving equivalents for other manufacturers, as Humbrol is not that widely available.

The decal set contains code letters and station names for all active boats, yet no boat names, just a generic nameplate decal with an “RNLB”. I learned that Airfix omitted the names so as not to unduly privilege any one donor, as the boats are commonly named after those who donated the money needed for their construction. Bottom line is probably that inserting all the names would have resulted in an even larger decal sheet as it is, so it looks like a cost-cutting measure to me. Luckily, the decal sheet contains all the red-and-yellow trim plus extra material – masking and spraying those lines would be a serious piece of work.

All in all, Airfix fans like me tend to have a different outlook on Airfix kits than most other modelers, with considerably more tolerance towards their flaws. To me, this is a very fine kit of an interesting subject, and I was more than happy when it appeared. The fact that Hornby/Airfix produces new kits is a hint at a prolonged lease of life for the company, and hence a promise of an ongoing supply of their not perfect, but always enjoyable kits to me. 


 I built my model as much out of the box as possible to show the modeler what is to be expected from the kit.

Construction began with looking for and receiving some useful hints on the Airfix Tribute Forum, a place for hopeless Airfix addicts like me. The first issue was how to assemble the multi-part hull as efficiently as possible. I was advised to divert from the instructions and first to assemble hull sides with the deck, and only then add the bottom, but only after adding the bow thruster. That did work fine, yet despite adding a stabilizing piece of sheet I ended up with a noticeable seam running across the transom, needing careful filling and sanding. Generally speaking, you will need to build this kit very cleanly, as the original vessels are well-maintained and very clean – no weathering, at the utmost some little signs of use are tolerable.

Another issue with the hull is the waterline option. There are cut markings on the inside to produce a waterline hull, but I would rather not recommend using them. Firstly, because they make hull construction even fiddlier, as you end up with some very iffy and finely tapered parts. Secondly, because you will need a real waterline hull only for a harbour diorama with absolutely calm water, and even then only if the water base does not allow for cutting a recess to hide the hull in. Any boat under way will show some part of the underwater hull, and the model´s draught is not too excessive to be hid in a normal base plate. For those wanting to build the vessel waterline the way Airfix suggests, there is a detailed how-to on the Airfix Tribute Forum. Assembling the entire hull and only then cutting away the underwater part might be another viable option, but as I said, you´ll rarely need it anyway.

The next step after assembling the hull was a diversion from instructions - I built the complete outer shell of the superstructure as a subassembly, instead of building part of it together with the interior. That enabled me to achieve a good fit of the superstructure - both in itself and to the hull. Careful as I was in aligning the parts, I needed quite some filling and sanding, which was done much more easily on an empty shell than on a nearly completed model with clear parts in place.


Having completed the build so far, it was time for painting. I looked for the required colour shades both in the instructions and while looking through images of actual vessels, and ended up with a hodgepodge of both enamels and acrylics from my stocks. So my underwater hull is painted WEM Antifouling Red, the rest of the hull is Revell satin enamel Lufthansa blue, whilst the superstructure was painted Gunze Sangyo Alert Orange from their Soya set. The deck was painted Xtracrylix RAF Dark Sea Grey, with the light grey railings and trimmings in JPS USAF Light Grey.

After the usual priming and checking for flaws I used blue as the first coat on the hull. The superstructure was “primed” in orange so as to render the paint as bright as possible. I then masked the waterline, added the red hull paint, and then applied several gloss coats using Future – essential for decaling.

The red and yellow trim decals worked rather nicely, even though they might have benefited from a white underground. Sadly, I goofed on the next step, as I used the white waterline decal instead of masking and painting. The decal turned out to be not opaque enough, and the hull´s chine left a kink in the nice waterline.  I had to repair that by masking and painting – what I should have done in the first place. In hindsight, the best approach would have been to paint the approximate area of the waterline white first, then mask it using tape of appropriate width (with some corrections around the chine), and then add the blue and red respectively. Having already applied the red and yellow trim, that was not an option anymore. Well, you live to learn.

The next goof had already happened without my realizing it. I had sifted through the boat names and numbers and had decided to call my Severn RNLB Myrtle Maud, as that reminded me of Moaning Myrtle, a character from the Harry Potter novels. That vessel was stationed at Arranmore. So, all the required hull and superstructure decals were applied and sealed with Future. The nameplate was done using dry transfers and looked quite nice to me. That is, until a friendly M2 regular informed me that I had confused the boat´s code number. I had used 17-06, where it should have been 17-22. A short while and some colourful language later I started thinking hard. I felt I would most surely botch the job of overpainting and replacing the ID number on the hull, so I checked which boat was coded 17-06. Luckily, that boat was stationed at Arran, so I would only have to overpaint part of the station name, which looked much more attractive to me. The name, on the other hand, was considerably longer, and could simple not be done with the dry transfers. So I printed “RNLB Mr David Kirkaldy” in 5 point on my laser printer, cut it out and glued the paper on the styrene plate. The hull and superstructure were then sealed with clear satin acrylic, and the deck remaining in clear flat acrylic.


As the nice interior can hardly be viewed after assembly, I did not go overboard in detailing it, just painted the pieces in appropriate colours and tried to make sure the superstructure would later fit over the interior. That involved some sanding and still resulted in some gaps that had to be closed. The kit transparencies also turned out to be an issue, as they were too thick for a good fit of the superstructure to the hull. So they were replaced by pieces of clear plastic cut from blister packs, glued with white glue. The final marriage of hull and superstructure proved to be pretty exciting, and involved the use of  heavy tools to apply enough pressure for an acceptable fit. Nonetheless some gaps had to be filled and painted. Given the amount of work needed to fit the superstructure parts, I would nonetheless proceed likewise in a future build - I would only leave out a LOT of the interior parts.

These major steps done, it was time to do the numerous small parts and subassemblies. The most prominent of them, the inflatable boat and the crane, had their own issues. The crane is molded in one piece, so it would need some major scratchbuilding to depict it operative. So it was just cleaned up and painted. The inflatable lacks detail and looks pretty clunky and empty. Having seen enough images of these boats covered with a tarpaulin, I decided to use just that to avoid both any further effort and embarrassment. After cleaning up and gluing the boat´s engine, I made a cover using cigarette paper soaked in white glue. Painted in orange, that looked good enough for me. The life raft canisters received straps made from strips of Tamiya tape painted JPS dayglo orange. That was very easy and looked pretty sharp. Tamiya tape also helped a lot on masking the bridge windshield.

Getting the numerous railings from their sprues was a major undertaking, and it did not end without damage. But I was able to repair the parts and glue them to the boat, together with the various other deck fittings. Some gaps in the railings were closed using white glue. I should note that the painting guide is wrong re the railings. Those at the stern are light grey, those on the superstructure are white, and the rest is black, as the mast. Up there I digressed from building OOB by replacing the clunky quadruple antenna with .4 mm brass wire. As for construction sequence, I built from the center to the sides in order to minimize damage from handling. I also digressed from instructions as I first attached the railings and only then the inflatable boat – it is much easier that way. The searchlights were drilled out, painted silver inside and then covered with white glue to simulate the lenses.

As always, the use of acrylics speeded up the build. Metalizer paints were used on the anchor and the pretty cool looking washboards at the transom; these were the last parts added before correcting any readily visible flaws and calling the project quits.  


 This was a fast and enjoyable project. In fact, the model was built during the course of about two weeks, in late winter before gardening begins and as a much-needed break from building teensy-tiny 1:700th scale stuff. Now and then I need something not always involving fine motor skills!

I did have fun building it, and can recommend the kit to more experienced builders, though not to beginners. You´ll need to judge yourself where to follow the instructions and where not, and you have to be aware that this is not “shake and bake”, and you´ll have to apply some modeling skills.

Already from the box, you´ll end up with a nice (and colourful!) model, and any scratchbuilders will have a great starting point for conversions and refinements. Some very exciting diorama possibilities spring to mind effortlessly, too! 


Frank Spahr

December 2008


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