In 1962, the Seaham Harbour lifeboat, the George Elmy, set out in the mountainous seas we regualarly see crashing over the top of the lighthouse on a rescue mission that failed at the last moment, as the boat was hit by a huge wave just outside the harbour. Only one of the rescued people survived - the whole crew was lost, and my wife and her mother still remember the eerie silence of the town on the following morning as they delivered milk.
The boat was unsinkable, but not self-righting. As self-righting boats had been available since the 1890s, this seemed stupid, but the issue turns out not to be as simple as it appears, as self-righting boats were less stable, which brought different dangers. Following the Seaham disaster, the RNLI developed a new type of self-righting boat that worked by taking on a ton and a half of sea water when it was launched, and using the movement of this floating ballast to right the boat. Not an obvious solution, and the disaster can't be ascribed to the pure folly that we might imagine.
Repaired and retired, the George Elmy - named after the donor's brother, not from the North-East - was used as a fishing boat, and purchased by local people from Ebay. After £100k of restoration, half of it from the Heritage Lottery Fund, it is now on proud display at Seaham and entered on the register of historic ships. The exhibition of local life alongside the George Elmy is well worth a visit, and Sir Thomas Allen, the unofficial first citizen of the North-East, is patron of the organisation.