Ravi: Hero of the hour

The remarkable story of how a 10-year-old schoolboy survived being dragged out to sea after remembering RNLI water safety advice.

10-year-old schoolboy Ravi Saini at Scarborough Beach

Photo: RNLI/Erik Woolcott

It was the last Friday in July, a week into the school summer holiday. It was just an ordinary, English summer’s day, but a day that will live long in the memory of a young boy and the lifeboat crew who found him.

Ravi Saini and his family had travelled from Leeds to Scarborough for some much-needed social distancing by the sea.

RNLI lifeguards had just finished their shift and had already left the beach. ‘It was a particularly nasty day at sea, remembers Rudi Barman, a lifeboat volunteer at Scarborough Lifeboat Station. ‘South-easterly winds of about 30 knots and a short, sharp swell.’

Ravi and his dad Nathu Ram walked down to the water’s edge on South Bay and started to paddle. What they hadn’t noticed was how far they had gone in or how deep the water had become. Ravi tried to get back into shallower water, but before he could get there he got separated from his dad.

‘I realised that the water was coming up, Ravi says. ‘I could no longer touch the floor. I shouted “Help! Help! Help!” My dad can’t swim. He just had to go to the shore and raise the alarm.

Ravi and his father Nathu walking along the beach in Scarborough
Ravi and his dad Nathu

‘The water was round my neck,’ says Nathu. ‘Slowly, slowly [Ravi] was going too far. Once or twice we saw his face. After that we didn’t see him.’

‘I was getting pulled out,’ says Ravi. ‘I was really scared – petrified. I thought that this was the end of my life.’

Then Ravi remembered the advice he’d seen on TV from the RNLI – about what to do in situations like this. The advice was to lie on your back and float to live. Ravi had practised this during his school swimming lessons in Year 4, but this was the first time he’d tried it in the sea. By spreading his arms and legs out like a starfish, he found he was able to float and control his breathing.

Help on its way

When their pagers went off, the words ‘Launch ILB’ flashed up on the crew’s screens. ILB is an abbreviation for inshore lifeboat – in this case the station’s D class lifeboat, the ideal craft for locating people missing close to the shore. ‘That’s all we knew about the job initially,’ says Helm Rob Gaunt. ‘Adam [Sheader] and Rudi [Barman] were the first through the door, so I took them both. When we got to the boathouse, we heard it was someone in the water. Everyone jumped into gear and it was, right, let’s go!’

They launched the lifeboat and immediately began a shoreline search in the vicinity of the Spa, where Ravi was last seen – his parents watching anxiously from the shore. By now Ravi had been on his own in the water for almost an hour. ‘I couldn’t see anything,’ he says, ‘Only sky. And it was really cold.’ He hummed to himself to keep his mind distracted as he floated on his back.

Scarborough Crew Member Rudi Barman with Ravi

Photo: RNLI/Erik Woolcott

Scarborough Crew Member Rudi Barman 

‘We’d been tasked to search a particular area and we’d been searching for a while,’ recalls Helm Rob. ‘Then we had a bit of a discussion between ourselves. Rudi pointed out he was more likely to be over towards the harbour mouth because of the tide. So we turned tail and headed over that way. That’s when we saw him out of the corner of an eye.

‘I didn’t see the lifeboat, I heard it,’ says Ravi. ‘Tiny splashes. So I started shouting and then I was like, “Yes, they came to get me. I’m going to get a second chance to live!”’

While Ravi’s spirits soared, the crew’s sank. ‘Our initial reaction was “Oh god, it’s a body floating in the water,”’ says Adam. ‘So it was amazing when we approached him and we saw that he was shouting for help and OK.’ For the crew who brought Ravi back alive, he was the hero of the hour.

‘Ultimately, Ravi saved his own life,’ reflects Rob. ‘We’re all really proud of him.’

Scarborough Crew Member Adam Sheader

Photo: RNLI/Erik Woolcott

Scarborough Crew Member Adam Sheader

You can listen to Ravi tell the story of how he saved his life on our Lifesavers podcast. Here's a small snippet of our interview with him. 

‘Ravi’s an inspiration to everybody’

Rudi Barman, Crew Member at Scarborough, says: ‘This rescue reminded me exactly why we do this, why we try and respond so quickly and why we just throw everything at it. There’s a current that runs the full length of the bay and then it starts to go out and round the rock armour. And that was what Ravi was about to get into.

‘It could only have been another 10 minutes, who knows. He could have drifted over the harbour, been hit by a boat or something else. We reckon he’d run about half a mile from where he’d gone missing.

‘What Ravi’s done has hopefully inspired other kids to follow Saving Lives at Sea and watch more of the RNLI campaigns and get involved with water safety. Hopefully they can all learn what to do in the same situation. Ravi’s an inspiration to everybody.’

Float to live

If, like Ravi, you found yourself in the water, would you know how to float to live? Follow these five steps – it could save your life.

  • Fight your instinct to thrash around.
  • Lean back, extend your arms and legs.
  • If you need to, gently move them around to help you float.
  • Float until you can control your breathing.
  •  Only then, call for help or swim to safety.

Visit our safety pages for more water safety information and advice, and watch our float to live advert below:

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