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Our winter rescue roundup

Winter can be one of the toughest times to be a lifeboat volunteer: shorter days, the worst weather conditions of the year – it’s a real challenge.

But the dedication and courage shown by RNLI lifesavers means that, when the call to rescue comes in, they are ready and willing to head out. No matter if it’s the middle of a dark winter’s night, or in freezing sub-zero temperatures.

This winter has been no different, with lifesavers across the country using the boats, equipment, and training your support helps fund to save lives at sea. Here are just some of the rescues that took place:


Moelfre: 5 November

Moelfre lifeboat approach a man in a row boat being towed by a yacht
Moelfre’s D class lifeboat approaches the small rowing boat in distress

For Moelfre’s lifeboat volunteers, 5 November started off with a bang to match the firework displays when they responded to a PanPan – the most urgent type of emergency call. A sailing vessel had spotted a small rowing boat drifting out to sea off Bull Bay, with a single casualty onboard struggling in the conditions. While the sailing vessel was able to attach a tow, they could not get close enough to pull the casualty onboard.

The Moelfre crew were soon on scene aboard their D class lifeboat Enfys. They pulled up alongside the rowing boat and transferred the casualty onboard. Cold, wet and visibly in deep distress, the lifeboat crew wrapped him in thermal protection before quickly taking him back to shore, where the casualty was kept as warm as possible before an ambulance arrived to take him to hospital.

‘Although he hadn’t intended to go beyond the shelter of Bull Bay, the tide and wind caught him out and completely overwhelmed both him and his small boat,’ says Moelfre Mechanic and Helm Vince Jones. ‘No one knew he’d gone out rowing, and had he not called for help on his VHF radio, it’s doubtful anyone would have known he needed urgent help, and the outcome would have been entirely different.’

Port St Mary: 6 November

Both Port St Mary’s lifeboats launched in the early hours of Saturday 6 November to answer a distress call from a 40-foot yacht. Battling wind force 5, gusting force 7 and rough seas, the crews raced to the yacht, which had dropped anchor near Carrick Beacon after its propeller was fouled.

With the weather rapidly deteriorating and the 3m swell getting bigger, it was decided that the best course of action was to take the three passengers off the yacht and onto the lifeboat. The inshore lifeboat made its way alongside the yacht and the lifeboat crew were able to safely bring the passengers onboard. Shortly after the casualties were rescued, the yacht broke free from its anchor and hit the rocks, capsizing and sinking beneath the rough seas.

Newhaven: 24 December

An exciting day out before Christmas turned into a frightening experience for two paragliders who found themselves trapped on a beach near Newhaven by a rapidly rising tide. Thankfully, a fellow paraglider had spotted them in difficulty and called for help.

Newhaven lifeboat crew raced to the scene but, on spotting the casualties, realised they would be unable to bring their all-weather Severn class lifeboat David and Elizabeth Acland close enough to reach the casualties, so the Y-boat was launched.

With the rising tide hitting the cliffs and bouncing back, the lifeboat crew onboard the Y-boat were faced with a difficult approach. Unable to get close enough to take the casualties off the cliff, the lifeboat crew attempted to reach them with a throw bag. When this didn’t work, one of the casualties jumped off their perch at the foot of the cliffs and began swimming. The lifeboat crew quickly moved in and brought him onboard the Y-boat, before transporting him back to the all-weather lifeboat. Returning to the second casualty, they found he too was in the water. Clearly exhausted, the lifeboat crew dragged him onto their Y-boat before racing back to the mothership, where he was taken onboard by the rest of the lifeboat crew.

‘I remember, when they brought me onto the lifeboat, a crew member had his hand on my shoulder,’ says Dermot Ryan, one of the rescued paragliders. ‘And he was talking to me the whole time. It was that human touch, that reassurance, that was absolutely wonderful.’

Thurso: 30 December

Thurso Severn class lifeboat next to sea kayak they rescued

RNLI/Karen Munro

Thurso crew members alongside the rescued rowboat

While many of us were preparing for the New Year’s Eve festivities, the crew at Thurso launched on a marathon rescue. The casualty, a lone rower, had been blown off course while making passage from Durness to Scrabster. Using his sat-nav phone, the casualty called his family and alerted them to his predicament. They, in turn, raised the alarm.

Just before 11am, Thurso lifeboat crew launched their Severn class lifeboat The Taylors and made their way to the casualty’s last known location. The size of the casualty vessel and the heavy sea meant towing it all the way to safety would be dangerous. So the Y-boat was lowered and launched, and the casualty was brought back to the lifeboat.

The crew and casualty returned to Thurso at 8.10pm, 9 hours after they had first launched.

Minehead: 17 January

Minehead D class lifeboat riding across waves
Minehead lifeboat crew heading to the scene of the rescue

A walker was trapped at the foot of a 600ft cliff by the rising tide while taking a walk along the beach. Luckily, he was carrying a means of calling for help, so dialled 999 and informed the Coastguard of his situation.

Minehead lifeboat crew were soon alerted and made their way to the scene in both their inshore lifeboats. Arriving at the casualty’s location, the Atlantic 85 B class lifeboat – the larger of the two– dropped anchor and veered down the anchor line to the casualty’s position.

Once they were closer to the casualty, Minehead Crew Member Andrew Escott got into the water while attached to a line and swam to the casualty’s position. Scrambling over rocks, Andrew was able to reach the stranded walker and help bring him to safety.

'There was a bit of a sea running but we managed to put the boat in at exactly the right spot,’ says Helm Richard Gray. ‘Andrew told the casualty he was going to have to get wet, but he was happy to accept that knowing that at least he was going to be safe.'

The casualty was given a once-over by the lifeboat crew before being returned safely to shore.

Youghal: 2 February

The volunteers at Youghal were tasked to rescue a dog in distress at the start of February. The pointer had been out for a walk with its owner, before it fell 100ft off the edge of Ardmore Cliffs. With the sun setting, the lifeboat crew made their way to the dog’s location, where they found the poorly pointer waiting for them on a rock which it had managed to scramble up onto.

Visors down, two crew members approached the dog and were able to lift him off the rock and onto the lifeboat. Somewhat miraculously, the dog was suffering from no injuries – just a little cold!

Now safely onboard, the crew took the dog to Ardmore Pier where it was reunited with its owner. ‘Our concern with incidents like this is that the owner may enter the water to help the animal and end up endangering themselves,’ says Helm Jason Ansbro. ‘Thankfully, this wasn't the case and the passer-by did the right thing by calling for help.’

These are just some of the shouts that brave RNLI lifesavers have responded to over the winter season. Lifeboat crews across the UK and Ireland are ready to launch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no matter how harsh the weather conditions might be. But they’re up to the job, because they know they have the right kit and training to answer the call to rescue – thanks to your support.