Teddington RNLI rescue injured woman from stricken boat on weir
On Monday 5 February 2018 at 8:17pm Teddington RNLI were called to a shout involving a woman stuck on her boat by the weir at Teddington Lock.
It was a cold, damp night and all the attending crew were naturally concerned as to the condition of the casualty with the inherent dangers of the weir. This was especially the case after the previous few days of heavy rainfall, which had made the flows at the weir that much stronger.
As helm Jon Barker (Jon B) explained: ‘We were called to the casualty, Anne, who was stuck on the weir alone in her boat Danubia at Teddington Lock. Jon Chapman ‘Chappers’ (helm on the second boat) and I made the decision to split our services as a two-boat launch was requested by our Deputy Launching Authority (DLA) on the night, Paul Roach. One was launched to cover the boat and one to cover anything downstream of the weir should it accidentally go through.’
Unusually, Teddington RNLI has two D-Class inshore lifeboats (ILBs), D-785 Peter Saw and D-743 Olwen and Tom, primarily to deal with incidents on and around the weir (though this time the second boat crew were in a relief boat as D-785 is undergoing routine maintenance at Poole).
As Jon B continued: ‘On arrival in boat one, we could see that the casualty vessel with Anne on board was perilously close to an open gate on the weir but had been snagged on a safety line at water level. We made contact with Anne to ascertain her condition. She was cold, slightly unsure as to her position and had bruised her ribs in attempting to make the boat safe.’
‘In our assessment the boat was far from safe and we realised we needed to get Anne off the boat as our first priority. My crew on boat one consisted of Harry Eaton and Gianna Saccomani. In order to get access to the casualty vessel, we needed to manoeuvre the lifeboat into the same position as the casualty vessel so we employed a standard RNLI technique of veering down using a nearby tree as an anchor point.
‘We were able to quickly move the lifeboat to sit across the stern of the casualty vessel and encourage Anne to leave her boat and join us on the lifeboat. We were then able to use our attachment to the tree to spring the lifeboat away from the danger of the weir.’
‘Borrowing crew member Andy Cowell from boat two we then proceeded to repeat the veering down onto the casualty vessel to initially try and move the boat away from danger but decided to avoid any further risk and just make the vessel fast and inform the Environment Agency who recovered the vessel the following day.’
Luckily because it was dark I don't think Anne realised the extent of the danger she was in and she remained very calm throughout. Our excellent training at Teddington has prepared us for exactly this type of rescue. We were able to take on the challenge with a minimum risk to our own safety.’
As helm on boat two, ‘Chappers’ commented: ‘As soon as we knew we had an incident at Teddington Weir, Jon B, as lead helm, took the decision to launch our second lifeboat. The weir is the largest on the River Thames, with twenty gates and a high degree of flow at many times of the year, presenting the biggest hazard on our patch.’
‘My boat, crewed with Andy Cowell and Chris Gibson, was tasked to head directly to the large pool below the weir and we arrived there quickly, just as Jon B’s crew were getting into position.’
‘Throughout the great work done by Jon B's crew both in evacuating the casualty and in making the vessel safe, my crew's job was to hold position in the strong flow from the weir outfall below the stricken vessel, in readiness for any unintended, and potentially very dangerous, fall into the weir pool either by the casualty or one of our crew. This is a vital and hopefully unexciting part of any weir operations at Teddington! And thankfully it was unexciting this time too!’
Gianna and the Teddington Shore Crew, who attended, all agreed that as it was such a cold night they should take Anne into the Tide End Cottage pub to get warm before the ambulance arrived, rather than stay outside in the freezing air.
The Tide End is the pub where the Teddington RNLI Crew meet every Tuesday night after training. They know all the crew on first name terms and are very welcoming. However, Rebecca Winton, bar staff at the Tide End, was a little surprised of course to see the RNLI Crew in full Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) walking into the pub with Anne. Rebecca was quick to offer a cup of tea for Anne to keep warm. Where would us Brits be without our tea in times of crisis?
Rebecca was in fact very complimentary about the RNLI’s efforts: ‘I think that RNLI Teddington do a great job and I was glad that the RNLI Crew felt comfortable enough to come to the pub to ask for help. A cup of tea is nothing to the Tide End pub but it obviously meant a lot to the casualty as it warmed her up whilst waiting for the ambulance.’
As Gianna reflected after the ‘shout’: ‘It was so rewarding to see the look of relief on Anne's face when we managed to get her off her boat onto ours and I was able to reassure her and stay with her until I handed her over to London Ambulance.’
The work of Teddington RNLI did not just stop after Anne had been made safe with the London Ambulance Service. Anne came down to Teddington Lifeboat Station the following day and relived her experience to say how thankful she was to all the crew involved.
As Anne revealed: ‘I had only bought my boat three days before from Shepperton Marina. I got to the boat nice and early but had a few problems with the engine. I set off down the Thames and all was fine but I noticed a few weirs on the way, but there did not seem to be much signage to indicate dangers of the weir.
‘The engine cut out for some reason and a man from the local canoeing school tried to help me restart the engine, which he did. I then went through Molesey Lock. It was just starting to get dark and I made the wrong decision to go to the left as I got to Teddington and could only see the water starting to disappear.’
I lost a bit of control of my boat and it would not come back as the reverse was very weak. Then I realised it was probably a weir. There was a pole nearby. The boat was to the side. I was going backwards and forwards but not getting anywhere. I hooked the rope round a pole in the water and now I could not get onto dry land. I tied the boat up as securely as I could, switched the engine off and sat in the boat for a while, I was panicking a little at this point.’
‘The engine would not start. I slipped and hurt my ribs. I was in agony and thought this is ridiculous! I phoned 999. I said I had fallen and was in pain and my boat was stuck. As soon as I said that, they called out the RNLI and you were there within minutes. It was such a relief.’
‘It was amazing seeing the RNLI. It whizzed round the corner and I was rescued in no time at all. Everyone was understanding and Gianna calmed me down. We went to the pub and had a cup of tea. Having a woman in the crew was very comforting but also all the men on the crew were very helpful too until the ambulance arrived. The Ambulance said I was cold and hypothermic and when I got to A&E I was checked out and my ribs were ok I went home in a taxi.’
‘I was surprised to drive a boat into a weir and it was hard to see the danger as on the map it was not that clear. I have no boat experience really. You have to really know what you are doing on the Thames. If I could have done I would have followed a more experienced person along the Thames, It looks easy and I did know about the tides and I thought that was all I had to do. It’s only upriver. The RNLI were great. They were all sympathetic as you can feel a bit of a prat but all were very kind to me. I have now got a lot of experience of the river alright!’
Following the rescue, the very next day, a crew from RNLI Teddingon helped the Environment Agency to recover the boat. As Tim James, helm at RNLI Teddington explained:
‘We were requested by the Environment Agency to assist in the recovery of the casualty vessel from above the weir at Teddington. The vessel was stuck on the safety lines, designed to stop vessels from actually going over the weir. And thankfully in this case, they did just that. We attempted to push the line down and under the keel of the boat, with the EA tug on one side and the lifeboat in the other, but it was stuck fast.’
The decision was then taken to undo the bottle screw holding the rope in place, whilst the vessel was secured via the rope on its stern,that had been put in place by the RNLI crew during the initial rescue. The EA attempted to do this but it was difficult to reach down to it from their tug as it stands much higher in the water.’
So we manoeuvred safely alongside the wooden pile and the next safety line, secured ourselves to the post and from this position we could undo the bottle screw and release the line. This allowed the crew of the tug and our crew member on the bank to pull the casualty vessel free.’
‘We then re-attached the safety line and recovered back to the station for tea. Excellent team work from Gianna and Harry who were both part of the initial rescue and Toby Banks. Much thanks received from the EA and the Coastguard for assisting with the recovery of the casualty vessel and its safe return to the owner.’
So a completely satisfactory outcome for all involved.
And where would we be without tea? It’s always time for another cuppa…
Contributing authors Jon Barker, Jon Chapman, Tim James, Gianna Saccomani
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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.