High Speed Launch 102

High Speed Launch (HSL) 102, commissioned in 1936, is the only 100 class high speed, air/sea rescue launch to survive.

The inspiration behind these RAF rescue craft was Aircraftsman T E Shaw (better known as Lawrence of Arabia), who pressed for the development of a large craft for offshore rescue work.  The prototype vessel, HSL 100, was launched in May 1936 and on trials surpassed all the parameters set by both the builders and the RAF.  The air ministry immediately placed further orders, with HSLs 101 – 114 ordered in stages in 1936 with deliveries commencing in 1937.  Two further 100 class HSLs were ordered in 1938 with HSLs 117 – 132 ordered in 1939.  In the event, production of this type ceased after HSL 121 when the remaining 11 craft scheduled for completion in 1941 were switched to the British Power Boat Company “whaleback” design.

Capable of a speed of up to 40 knots, boats of this class rescued more than 13,000 airmen from the sea.  HSL 102 herself saved 38 aircrew in 1941 as she patrolled the English Channel, and as a result received a visit from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.  HRH The Queen Mother relaunched HSL 102 on completion of her restoration in 1996, 55 years after she had first stepped on board.

The dimensions of the launch were 64 ft. overall with a beam of 14 ft. 6 ins., and powered by a trio of Napier Sea Lion engines.  The range was 500 miles at a speed of 39 knots.  The two wing engines were inclined to drive directly to the outboard propeller shafts, whilst the centre engine faced the opposite direction and transmitted via a Vee-drive to the centre propeller.  This arrangement allowed for “cruising” on the centre engine only, a range-extending economy measure which retained a high degree of manoeuvrability.  The accommodation included an officer’s wardroom/sickbay for four and forecastle bunks for eight crew.

Boat Stats

Length Overall





3ft 6in


13.5 tons


Originally three 500hp Napier Sea Lions, followed by three Cummins Diesels, 6-cylinder, 8.3 litres. Re-engine in 2012 fitted with three Iveco 6-cylinder diesel engines.


 38 knots


 500 miles


Mahogany double diagonal planking.

Date Built


Boat Yard

British Power Boat Company, Hythe, Southampton.

Supported by:

Supported by Regional Growth Fund