Hoylake: When every second counts

With two dog walkers stuck in the mud, and the water rising fast around them, our hovercraft crew at Hoylake knew they were in a race against time.

The crew at Hoylake, next to their hovercraft, covered in mud

Photo: RNLI/Hoylake

It’s early December 2020, and two women are out for a walk across Wirral Beach with their pack of eight dogs. But as they reach Leasowe Bay, the pair find themselves in trouble. They become stuck fast in thick mud and, with the tide flooding in, they are soon up to their waists in water. 

Hoylake RNLI’s volunteer crew quickly respond to the Coastguard alert. ‘I’d just come off my nightshift as a firefighter when we got the call,’ says Crew Member Emily Jones. ‘It was a cold day. I remember that well as we had to muster outside the station because of social distancing. When four of us had been picked as crew we went inside to get suited and booted, along with masks and gloves.’

With Harry Jones in command, Andy Dodd as pilot and Abbie Sanders and Emily as crew, the volunteers swiftly launched their rescue hovercraft Hurley Spirit

Hoylake's hovercraft

Photo: RNLI/David Edwards

Hoylake's hovercraft Hurley Spirit

‘When you hear that people are in mud and there’s a rising tide, you’re thinking: “they’re going to drown if we don’t get them out quick,”’ says Emily. ‘And you’re preparing the kit you might need to rescue them. That could be mud mats, a sand lance, shovels, or the a-frame lifting gear. The crew need to do quite a lot to get to actually get to the scene too. Hovercraft handling is pretty challenging, especially when it’s windy. We often have to move around the craft to change the weight distribution, flag hazards to the pilot, and help them navigate a safe approach to casualties.’

On scene, the crew find the women chest-deep in the sea. Nearby, on firmer ground, two police officers and a member of the public are keeping an eye on all the dogs. ‘Thankfully, the casualties had sat down which helped to spread their weight across the mud,’ says Emily. ‘The water had probably loosened things slightly but, by that point, the ladies were very cold. That’s when you start to lose your cognitive abilities. When you can’t move or think straight, you need help.’

RNLI Hoylake launch to the rescue of dog walkers stuck in mud

Photo: RNLI/Hoylake

With the water continuing to rise, the RNLI crew know they have to work fast to free the walkers. Andy carefully sets down the hovercraft to form a floating platform and turns off the fans. The three remaining crew immediately enter the water to try and carefully release the women. ‘They were fairly close together. Harry and Abbey went to one, while I helped the other,’ remembers Emily. ‘I supported her with my shoulder and tried to keep her calm as she gently wiggled her feet free. Then, through a combination of floating, half-swimming, kneeling, crawling and shuffling, I got her to the hovercraft.'

Once both casualties are safely onboard, the crew assess them for injuries. Fortunately, other than feeling cold and anxious, they don’t need immediate medical treatment. ‘One of the ladies was extremely emotional,’ says Emily. ‘That’s fairly common with people who have just been rescued. Once they start feeling safe, the severity of the situation sets in and the sense of relief can be overwhelming. We wrapped both the women in blankets and calmed them down with some breathing exercises.’

Now the humans were safe and getting settled, it was time to deal with their four-legged friends. ‘Dogs were jumping on and off the hovercraft, wondering what on earth was going on,’ says Emily. ‘So we grabbed four and brought them onboard. We shooed the others up the beach, away from the hovercraft, where they were rounded up by the police officers.’ 

The lifesavers then fly the casualties to the shore, where they are handed into the care of paramedics and the Wirral Coastguard Rescue Team. 

2020 was one of Hoylake RNLI’s busiest years on record for emergency callouts, where the easing of Covid-19 restrictions saw many people heading to the Wirral and Merseyside coasts. ‘We know all the danger hotspots,’ says Emily. ‘But, unfortunately, visitors from outside the area aren’t always aware of the risks. Last year we got quite used to the pagers going off – but my heart still goes every time I hear those beeps.’ 

Hoylake crew clean down their hovercraft

Photo: RNLI/David Edwards

The crew at Hoylake wash down their hovercraft

Harry’s mud safety tips

Harry Jones, Hovercraft Commander at Hoylake RNLI, says: ‘This was a challenging rescue. With the tide flooding in quickly, every second counted. It was lucky that we could reach them with the hovercraft and free them from the mud in time. Leasowe Bay can be a dangerous stretch. If you’re heading this way, check the tide times and local safety signage – and know your route to safety. Keep an eye on your surroundings and always carry a means of calling for help.

‘If you ever get stuck in mud, try to spread your weight as evenly as possible across the surface. Avoid moving and stay as calm as you can. It’s also important to discourage others from trying to rescue you, as they may become stuck too.’

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