Lost at sea: One diver's tale of faith and courage

When diver Paul Gibson became separated from his buddy and his boat, a major search and rescue operation ensued involving three lifeboats, an RNAS Culdrose search and rescue helicopter and HMS Somerset.

Diver Paul Gibson underwater

Paul tells us what happened that day and how faith in his personal locator beacon (PLB) gave him the courage to survive.

Paul's story

I was diving from a boat off the Cornish coast when the shotline became detached from the wreck. So we had to deploy our delayed surface marker buoys. On the way up we got separated and I carried out my normal decompression.

I surfaced and looked around and couldn't see the boat. Then I managed to see the boat way in the distance and I could make out people standing on the top of the wheelhouse. I assumed that they'd either lost the pair of us or me and I realised there was a situation developing.

A small diver in a big sea is hard to spot. But I was more than confident that having got the personal locator beacon I would eventually be found. I turned it on when I realised that the dive boat could not see me.

From surfacing to being found was 2½ hours. I knew that HMS Somerset had spotted me - probably half a mile to a mile. Then when it kind of turned and headed straight for me I'm thinking they must have seen me. It was just relief ... but you just still keep on waving.

Shortly after this the helicopter and lifeboats came to my rescue.

A learning curve

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone at Falmouth, The Lizard and Penlee lifeboats, to the RNAS at Culdrose and to the crew of HMS Somerset for persevering with the search and saving my life.

This has been a learning curve for me and I now also carry an AIS [automatic identification system] transmitter, smoke flares and use larger surface marker buoys.

I believe 100% that the personal locator beacon kept the rescue services in the right area, searching all the time. If I hadn't had the personal locator beacon I think it would have been much more stressful.

On the day of the incident there were seven other people on that dive. I was the only person with a personal locator beacon. Since then, the other seven now own personal locator beacons because they've seen the advantage to both themselves and the rescue services.

Take our new diver sea survival training

Divers are one of the most safety-conscious groups of sea goers. But not everyone's well prepared for UK and Irish waters. From this winter you can take the RNLI Diver Sea Survival course as an introduction to diving in the UK or as an update to your sea survival skills.

The training, developed by the RNLI with BDSG (British Diving Safety Group), will be available through PADI and BSAC or many of the other lead training agencies.

Find out more about the RNLI Diver Sea Survival course.