The world’s largest lifeboats

From Ole Brude’s “Egg” to Harding’s massive covered lifeboats, Norwegian invention is behind large-scale safety at sea


Photo courtesy of Palfinger
Palfinger Marine’s MPC 49 covered lifeboat is the largest in the world, able to seat 450 passengers and equipped with amenities like comfortable seats, audio and video entertainment, four entrances, two decks, USB charging ports, and a bar. A world record was set in a boarding test of 5:21.

Rasmus Falck
Oslo, Norway

The world`s largest passenger ships must be outfitted for safety. The Schat-Harding group, now Palfinger Marine AS, has been delivering the largest covered lifeboats for some time. The newest version, the MPC 49, has a capacity for 450 passengers per lifeboat. The boats are situated outside the hull and can be lowered into position. It was delivered to the Vessel Series from (at that time) STX France.

The new lifeboats are safer and quicker to board for large numbers of people. The boat is 15- meters long x 5.52m wide x 4.2m high. It is built from fiberglass reinforced polyester. The new lifeboat looks so good passengers might find themselves wishing they could take one for a spin. The optional amenities will make them feel like they never left the liner: customized design; comfortable seats; restrooms; audio and video entertainment; air conditioning and heating; indoor and outdoor LED mood lights; USB charging ports, ceiling windows, and a bar. It has four entrances and two decks. On April 20, 2017, a boarding test was conducted at the Harding headquarters in Seimsfoss, Norway with 200 employees and 240 volunteers aged 15-80. The safety standard is 10 minutes; a world record of 5:21 was set.

Harding used to be a partnership between three Norwegian shipowners and is the global market leader of marine life-saving systems, with a solid track record of deliveries to offshore installations and vessels worldwide. The group was created in 2013 when the private equity fund Herkules Capital acquired Schat-Harding and Noreq. Noreq was established in 2006 and recorded brisk international growth. Schat-Harding was established in 1945 and the history of the company goes all the way back to the 1920s. Since the Harding Group was created, it has become a leading supplier of lifeboats with a staff of 800 employees based in Seimsfoss, Norway. In 2016, the Austrian company Palfinger acquired Harding, and Harding is now known as Palfinger Marine Safety AS.

Ole Brude - Brude Egg

Photo: Andrva / Wikimedia
Restored Uræd or “Brude Egg” covered lifeboat, built around 1908, outside Ålesund Museum. Ålesund native Ole Brude came up with the concept of a covered lifeboat in 1904, a concept used today.

The design behind the lifeboat of today goes back to the inventor Ole Brude, who was born in 1880 in Ålesund. He lived with his family in America as a child. Back in Norway, he went to sea when he was 16, then to naval college in Ålesund, before joining the merchant marine. These were the times when lifeboats were open boats made of wood. Before he turned 20, Brude thought about how he could improve their safety. He designed a fully covered lifeboat in steel, giving shelter from the open air and the sea, propelled by a sail. Brude managed to raise some funds and found a boatbuilder to make the first model. The local press gave it the name “The Brude Egg.”

On June 28, 1904, there was a great tragedy when the steamer Norge sank. Many of the over 600 people perished, even though they had managed to get on board the lifeboats. Brude heard that France was offering a one-million-franc prize for an improved lifeboat, and that the judging was to be at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. He decided to sail his new innovation across the Atlantic to New York to prove its sea-worthiness, then transport it by train to St. Louis. He persuaded three other crew members to join him. The ship was christened Uræd (fearless). Brude figured the trip would take three months and allow them to reach St. Louis before the fair closed.

In August 1904, they left Ålesund harbor for one of the worst winters in the North Atlantic. The weather was stormy, cold, and rough, and the journey took five months. In January 1905, they were swept up on the shore 40 miles north of Boston. They were received as heroes and there was a sensation in the press.

Brude established his own company and built 22 lifeboats. But the company barely sold them, and he was forgotten. Many years later his design was rediscovered. It is now the standard on most large ships. Today, a restored boat of a later version built around 1908, can be seen at the museum in Ålesund. Brude was ahead of his time.

He died in 1949 in Seattle.

Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo, Norway.

This article originally appeared in the January 11, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Rasmus Falck

Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his masters degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo.