Motor cruiser towed to safety in gale conditions after engine failure

Lifeboats News Release

The Ilfracombe volunteer lifeboat crew launched on Sunday 29 September to assist a motor cruiser with engine failure in heavy seas and gale force winds near Lynmouth.

RNLI Mark Gammon

Lifeboat tows stricken motor cruiser to Ilfracombe harbour

The cruiser had been seen earlier that day near Minehead by a member of the public who believed the vessel to be in difficulties in the heavy sea conditions and made a 999 call to the Coastguard. Watchet Coastguard sent their team to search the coastline for the vessel, however no sightings were made, and no distress calls were reported. The RNLI Minehead lifeboat was launched and attempted to proceed westwards towards Porlock Bay, however it could only get as far as Selworthy Sands due to the extreme sea conditions. With no confirmed persons in distress at that point the lifeboat returned to station.

At around 3.50 p.m. a Mayday call was made to Ilfracombe RNLI and the volunteer crew swiftly launched the Ilfracombe Shannon class all-weather lifeboat The Barry and Peggy High Foundation. The cruiser was reported to be at Foreland Point near Lynmouth and the lifeboat made its way through heavy seas with waves up to four metres high and gale force north westerly winds of 35-40 knots. To add to the difficult conditions this was also the highest spring tide so far this year with very strong tides running along the coast and around the headlands.

The lifeboat reached the cruiser 25 minutes later near Sandridge Bouy and the Volunteer Coxswain was able to speak to the cruiser’s skipper on the radio to assess the situation. The motor cruiser had been making passage from Bath to Appledore when the weather worsened. The cruiser continued to try to make passage, however, in the heavy seas and strong tides, the cruiser began to experience problems with one of its engines and the skipper decided to send out the distress call.

With the lifeboat alongside, the cruiser’s skipper was happy to continue to make way, however, as they reached Combe Martin Bay, one of the cruiser’s engines failed and the other engine, struggling against the waves and tide began to overheat. At this point the volunteer Coxswain made the decision to put a lifeboat crew member aboard the cruiser and to tow the vessel to safety.

In the extreme conditions it took several attempts before a crew member could step aboard the cruiser, however, the RNLI volunteer crew train extensively for these kind of situations and the task was completed safely. The crew member then secured the towline and the cruiser was towed back to Ilfracombe harbour arriving back at 7.30 p.m. Due to the extremely high spring tide the lifeboat could not be recovered immediately and the hard working Shore Crew had to wait for the tide to go out before recovering the lifeboat back into the lifeboat station just after 10 p.m.

Volunteer RNLI Coxswain Andrew Bengey says, ‘The motor cruiser crew were experienced sailors and were well equipped for the passage. Although they were caught out by the weather they were wearing life jackets and did the right thing to raise the alarm when their engine began to fail. The RNLI would urge anyone to always wear their life jackets and look at the weather forecast when heading out to sea.’

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 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and 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.

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Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.