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Blown away: The two paddleboarders pulled out to sea

An afternoon of fun on the water turned nasty for two teenagers who found themselves pulled out to sea by strong winds. 

The Atlantic 85 lifeboat at Largs powers through the water, with four crew members aboard

Photo: RNLI/Nick Mailer

Onlookers watched in horror as two teenage boys were blown offshore on paddleboards at Ardneil Bay, North Ayrshire. Thankfully, someone dialled 999 and within minutes, volunteers were hurrying to Largs Lifeboat Station to launch their Atlantic 85, R A Wilson.

Every second counts

On the lifeboat that day, 2 March 2022, was Brian Rankin. ‘With two people in the water, we knew it was a very urgent shout,’ he says. It was a windy day, gusting at 35 knots from the east, with challenging sea conditions to contend with too. ‘The sea that day was like the surface of a pot of boiling water,’ Brian remembers. ‘There was a lot of spray. We knew we needed to get to them quickly – they could be in dire straits. We didn’t know what they were wearing, whether they had their paddles, or if they were communicating with the Coastguard.’

In a situation like this, every second counts. ‘Speed was required and our Atlantic 85 lifeboat, which can go 35 knots, is great. I love that boat,’ Brian says. ‘The Atlantic can do anything an all-weather lifeboat can – except make cups of tea.’ 

A Largs crew member points out to sea, having spotted the paddleboarders

Photo: RNLI/Largs

The crew power to the rescue and spot a boy in the distance

As they powered through the choppy seas, the crew were joined in their search by a Coastguard helicopter. ‘We were about half a mile away when we saw it. Being high up, they had a much better eye on the situation,’ says Brian. ‘They came over the radio and said: “We’ve got a visual”. So we made a beeline straight for them. It cut down a lot of time.’

But when the Largs crew arrived on scene, they only saw one person on a paddleboard. 

‘Where’s the other person?’

‘Automatically you’re thinking: “Where’s the other person?” And you start scanning,’ says Brian. ‘Then we saw the second person about 300m away from us. Because of the sea state, we couldn’t see him properly.’

The Largs inshore lifeboat approaches the paddleboarders

Photo: RNLI/Largs

They approach the paddleboarder, ready to rescue

The second paddleboarder was in the water, clinging to his board. Knowing how dangerous the cold water can be, Helm Dave Stevens decided to rescue him first. Within a matter of seconds, the crew were by the paddleboarder’s side. ‘It was a textbook recovery,’ says Brian. ‘I went to the front of the boat, grabbed onto him and pulled him into the lifeboat. As he’d been in the water, we tried to make sure he wasn’t getting any colder and started doing a quick assessment of his condition. We sat him at the front of the boat, where there’s more protection from the wind.’ 

Two crew members pull the paddleboarder aboard the lifeboat

Photo: RNLI/Largs

The volunteers pull one paddleboarder out of the water and into the lifeboat

Fortunately, the boy had only been in the water for a minute. A wave had caught him off-guard and flipped him into the water just before the crew arrived. 

‘The effects of hypothermia were setting in’

While the crew recovered their first casualty, Helm Dave kept his eye on the other boy – the paddleboarding pair were brothers, it turned out – to make sure he was safe. The crew quickly got him onboard too. ‘It was scoop, scoop, go – literally that quick,’ says Brian. 

‘The second boy had been out on the water for quite some time and was feeling the effects of the cold more than his brother. They were both wisely wearing wetsuits, but the guy on the board was pretty cold. He was shaking and his lips had started to go blue – the effects of hypothermia were setting in.’ 

The volunteers pull the second crew member aboard the boat

Photo: RNLI/Largs

‘It was scoop, scoop, go,’ recalls volunteer Brian – the crew get the second paddleboarder to safety

The crew set about making sure the two boys were warm and safe, and made their way to a nearby harbour near Portencross Castle. ‘We got into the harbour in less than 5 minutes,’ says Brian. They were met by the local Coastguard as well two police officers. An ambulance was also requested to make sure both boys were alright after their ordeal. 

A quick intervention

The crew later learned that it was the boys’ parents who’d called 999. ‘Because they called so quickly, that got us on scene a lot sooner. And we were lucky to have the helicopter, which was on its way to a rescue up in the Highlands.’ 

Without the fast intervention of the crew, the boys would have been in real trouble. ‘There was no more land,’ says Brian. ‘The next stop for them would have been the Isle of Arran, which is about 14 miles away.’ 

Reflecting on the rescue, Brian says: ‘It was two lives saved that day – and that was a good feeling. We’re quite proud of that one. There are a few rescues which make you think: “That was a really good job that day”. This is one of them.’

Staying safe on the water

Brian adds: ‘Like every sport, paddleboarding has a level of risk. Enjoy yourself but understand there are limitations – on yourself as well as your board. Before you head out, make sure you look at the weather conditions – not just the next hour, but the advanced forecast. And have a means of calling for help on you.’ 

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