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Rescued kayaker warns others to respect the water

Lifeboats News Release

RNLI Ilfracombe lifeboats went to the rescue of kayakers who said that they had failed to appreciate the strength of the tides on our coast.

Lewis was one of two kayakers rescued by RNLI Ilfracombe lifeboats last week in particularly strong tides. He wanted his story to be told in the hope that other kayakers and boarders don't end up also needing rescue.

At 11:39 on Wednesday morning, the Coastguard tasked both Ilfracombe lifeboats to two people in kayaks west of Lee Bay. Both boats were launched within nine minutes thanks to the quick response of the volunteer crew and the kayakers.

While the water was calm immediately by the shore, a Force 5 north-easterly wind coupled with a strong ebb tide (the falling water as the tide goes out), made for choppy, difficult conditions only a little further out. The kayakers were only 30 metres from the shore.

The two lifeboats picked up both kayakers and their kayaks but were unable to get them back to Lee as the conditions were too rough so they were brought back to Ilfracombe Harbour.

'It looked like another lovely day' remembers Lewis, one of the kayakers. 'The sun was shining and the water looked flat calm again. We'd arrived on holiday in Lee that week and had been out kayaking the day before. It was my first time. We had gone out east from Lee Bay and came back in with the tide. It was a lovely, easy kayak. That day, the day of rescue, we decided to go west. I did notice that it was a bit wavier, but it was barely noticeable at first. We are all fit and do lots of sport at university so we didn't think about it really. We'd been paddling a while and there was some sort of headland in front of us so we decided to turn back.

'That's when we realised we were in difficulties. Trying to paddle in the other direction was really hard. We paddled hard but seemed to go nowhere, the water was pushing hard against us. 'Paddle hard!' I remember one of us saying. Two of us managed to get through but a friend and I carried on struggling. We could see the others paddling away, heading to Lee. At some point we realised we had been paddling on our own for half an hour but had got no further forwards. We tried for a bit longer then decided we need to get some rest. We went back the other way towards the headland and some rocks and sheltered there a bit. We really were exhausted. I tried to leave the shelter but the waves were high and current strong, I capsized and had to haul myself back onto the kayak. My friend tried, and the two of us got back to where we were. I remember thinking we wouldn't drown because we had life jackets, but my real fear was that the current would take us out to sea and then there wouldn't have been much we could do about it. We carried on paddling as hard as we could but at that time we were absolutely exhausted.

'It was so good when we finally saw the lifeboat coming towards us. We were so glad to be scooped up when we were!

'It was that evening when we were back in the holiday cottage that it really hit us. Our friend who had managed to paddle away told us that she had got to shore and had to ask people there for a phone to call the Coastguard. It was so good that she had, as we had no way to call for help ourselves. It really home that we just hadn't been as respectful of the water, of the strength of the water, as we should have been. We were very lucky.'

Lewis is not his real name as he wanted to retain his anonymity, but he wanted to tell his story so that other kayakers could realise the difficulties kayakers can face without going through what he and his friends went through. RNLI advice is to check the local conditions thoroughly before setting out, tell someone onshore where you are going and what time to expect you back, and to carry a mobile phone so that you can call for help if you need to. If you happen to see a kayaker in trouble, please call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

RNLI/Gudrun Limbrick

The two Ilfracombe lifeboats

RNLI/Nathan Williams


RNLI/Nathan Williams

Kayaker capsizing

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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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