By this time the face is the only part of a lifeboat crew member left largely unprotected, especially on inshore lifeboats which lack windscreens and wheelhouses. Even the thickest beards don’t provide that much shelter.
In 1974 the National Research and Development Corporation offers its help to the RNLI with the broad remit of ‘encouraging technical innovation’. Together with other experts, the RNLI designs a wraparound visor, with an unusual, inward tilt that disperses droplets of water by airflow and gravity. It provides the best combination of protection and visibility, which has so far eluded designers.
RNLI Research and Development Officer Stuart Welford has the happy task of testing the new kit out in a wind tunnel with 50mph blasts, spray and near-freezing temperatures (pictured). He finds it brings a marked improvement, going from ‘intolerable’ to merely ‘unpleasant’. From 1977 the helmets with visors are rolled out to Atlantic 21 crews, followed by other inshore lifeboat crews. At the end of his report Welford is already anticipating a day when in-helmet radio comms are possible.