You’re out of fuel – what would you do next?

You’re out sailing 2 miles from shore in fair weather conditions when you unexpectedly run out of fuel – what would you do next?
RNLI Peel's Mersey class lifeboat towing a boat

Photo: RNLI Peel

Do you:

  • A) Hail a passing vessel for help?
  • B) Send out a mayday call?
  • C) Sail back to harbour (you still have propulsion) and pan pan for assistance once you’re there?

Expert answer: Pip Hare, Ocean Racing Sailor

In this scenario, I would advise sailing back to harbour (C). If you’re sailing in fair conditions with no change forecast, running out of fuel isn’t an immediate emergency – but it’s wise to head back as soon as possible.

If the entrance to the harbour is difficult – or there are strong tides, less wind or busy traffic – call for assistance if you don’t feel confident under sail.

Your anchor will also keep you safe in this scenario. If you’re sailing close to the port, find a sheltered spot to drop your anchor. In busy ports, there are usually commercial organisations who can help you.

If conditions change, or you have no mobile phone reception, contact the coastguard using your radio or by dialling 999 or 112.

To prepare for a scenario like this, practise sailing onto mooring buoys or even empty alongside berths. It’s a useful skill to have and fun to practise.

Ocean Sailor Pip Hare using a VHF radio

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Ocean Sailor Pip Hare using a VHF radio

Five without fuel

Last spring, Peel lifeboat was called to assist a family of five stranded without fuel while returning from a day trip to Ardglass in County Down. 

With crew pagers springing into life, the volunteers immediately launched their Mersey class all-weather lifeboat Ruby Clery to the rescue. 

Once on scene, the lifeboat crew checked the family were wearing lifejackets and were safe and well, before attaching a tow and pulling their boat back to Peel Harbour.

Peel Coxswain and RNLI Fishing Safety Manager Frankie Horne says: ‘As we approach the summer season, we’d like to remind everyone to be mindful of the importance of being fully prepared before taking to sea. Always carry a means of calling for help and if something should go wrong dial 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.’

Top tip: download the SafeTrx app to register sail plans and call for help easily when out.

Heading out on the water soon? Check out our yacht sailing and motorboating safety advice

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