THE most sophisticated lifeboat in the country has entered service.

The new arrival took its place in Redcar, a stone's throw from the world's oldest lifeboat.

The Zetland, which celebrates its 200th anniversary next year, sits proudly looking out to sea in the Zetland Lifeboat Museum on the seafront.

But the new £86,000 Atlantic 75 class, the most modern boat in the RNLI fleet, is a million miles away from the original wooden rowing boat.

Crews spent last Friday taking part in sea trials with the new boat to ensure that by sundown they were completely familiarised with it and would be ready for action should an emergency call come through.

The boat has been paid for by the Leicester branch of the RNLI and will be called Leicester Challenge II.

The boat has caused so much excitement in lifeboat circles that a crew from the Dutch service are spending a week in Redcar to find out more about the craft.

It has state-of-the-art radar and global positioning equipment, as well as a balancing system that should help to stabilise the boat in rough weather.

It replaces the Atlantic 21 lifeboat Leicester Challenge, which has been at Redcar for the past 12 years.

In that time, the boat has been launched 275 times, has assisted more than 350 people and saved no fewer than 114 lives.

Delighted as the crew are with the new boat, Dave Cammish, Deputy Launching Authority, said it was sad to see the old boat go.

"B580, as we know her, has been a fantastic lifeboat for us. She has never failed to launch when called out, she has never even looked like letting us down.

"And, if truth be known, she has several times got us out of very difficult situations when operating in weather and sea conditions much more severe than she was designed for.

"If our new lifeboat serves us as well, we will be well pleased."

Leicester Challenge will now enter the RNLI's reserve fleet at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, and could be operating at any RNLI station in the country while that station's own boat is undergoing repairs or a refit.