Three RNLI lifeboats, a ferry and a helcopter in dramatic multi-agency rescue
Ramsey RNLI lifeboat, the Ann & James Ritchie, was launched at 09:17 on Friday, 8 July, to search for a yacht that had transmitted a 'mayday' in the eastern Irish Sea somewhere between the Isle of Man and Fleetwood.
Since the exact position of the yacht was unknown Douglas RNLI lifeboat, the Sir William Hillary, and Barrow RNLI's Edward & Barbara Prigmore were also launched.
The small yacht with three people on board had set off from Fleetwood at 14:00 on Thursday, 7 July with the intention of sailing to the Isle of Man. At 06:00 the next day, they were within 10 miles of the Island but decided to turn around because of deteriorating weather conditions and seasickness. Due to a combination of sea conditions, severe seasickness and exhaustion the crew became disorientated and were unable to establish their position. They broadcast a Mayday distress call using their VHF radio and Belfast Coastguard picked this up. The sea conditions at the time were rough and the wind was westerly, force 5-6.
The Isle of Man’s Steam Packet vessel Ben My Chree, en route from Douglas to Heysham, also picked up the Mayday call, and, with her officers making best use of her elevated bridge and radar, joined the search. Since the yacht was beyond the range of the lifeboats radios the Ben my Chree became an essential link relaying messages to the lifeboats. Castletown Isle of Man Coastguard rigged their mobile radio direction finding equipment on Douglas Head and determined a radio bearing for the casualty. A short time later the Ben My Chree identified a radar target which they believed to be the stricken yacht, and departed their scheduled route to investigate the target due west of the Duddon Estuary close to the wind farm. On confirming the vessels identity Ben My Chree carefully manoeuvred the casualty alongside to give it some protection from the weather.
Coastguard Rescue Helicopter 936 from Caernarfon was scrambled in case an airlift was required and Barrow RNLI lifeboat, the Edward & Barbara Prigmore, was launched at 10:30.
Ramsey RNLI lifeboat, with Coxswain Mark Kenyon at the helm, arrived on scene at approximately 11:00. In the shelter provided by the Ben My Chree two of Ramsey’s volunteer crew, a doctor and a first aider, were quickly transferred to the yacht to assess the condition of the three people on board and to prepare a tow. Once it was ascertained that there was no requirement for an airlift the helicopter was stood down. With Douglas lifeboat standing by, Ramsey lifeboat established a tow and the casualty vessel was towed clear of the Ben My Chree, which then proceeded on its journey to Heysham.
Belfast coastguard requested that the tow be passed to Barrow RNLI lifeboat in order for the casualty to be returned its home port of Fleetwood. The tow was maintained by Ramsey RNLI lifeboat until Barrow RNLI lifeboat arrived on scene at around 11:20.
Whilst Ramsey lifeboat held the tow steady a member of the Barrow volunteer crew was transferred to the casualty vessel where he was briefed on the crews condition. After confirmation that all parties were happy with the situation the tow was passed to Barrow RNLI lifeboat. Once the tow was underway Ramsey RNLI lifeboat manoeuvred alongside the casualty to recover the two Ramsey personnel for the passage back to station. Barrow RNLI lifeboat then set course for home with the casualty safely under tow. Both Ramsey and Douglas lifeboats were then released to return to their respective Stations.
Coxswain Mark Kenyon said: “This service demonstrates the importance of carrying a good VHF radio and not to rely on a mobile phone. Without the ability to follow a radio bearing a small vessel in rough seas can be a challenging target. Fortunately, on this occasion, the Ben My Chree was able to provide an effective visual search platform without which the search may have been considerably longer.”
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.