Former rescuee from kayak Mayday becomes lifesaver at RNLI Kessock Lifeboat

Lifeboats News Release

One of Kessock Lifeboat’s newest trainees has shared his story of how he and his father were involved in a dramatic rescue under the Kessock bridge when he was just a teenager.

RNLI/Yvette Kershaw

Euan Smillie (R) with volunteer crewmate Rhona MacLeod (L)

The experience inspired him to join the charity crew and train to become an RNLI lifesaver.

Euan Smillie, a local lad from Kilmuir who might be recognised as the fiddler from globally successful band Elephant Sessions, was just 14 when he and his father, an experienced kayaker, set off for a routine paddle around the inner Moray Firth and up the Beauly Firth.

Euan explains that although this excursion was expected to be nothing out of the ordinary on a fine day, and having enjoyed the route in similar conditions on many occasions, events quickly escalated into a dangerous situation.

He recalls, “We set off that afternoon exactly the same as we had 100s of times before, but conditions switched quickly and with a few factors which changed everything. The running spring tide turned, plus a change in wind direction resulted in really difficult water to navigate.”

He continues, “This led to some turbulent water rapidly picking up under the Kessock Bridge as we passed under. Had we arrived a few minutes earlier or later I think we would have cruised through but we were just there at the wrong moment.”

Euan explains how the rapidly fluctuating and falling water pinned his kayak between the stanchions of the Kessock Bridge, and his father’s kayak was swept away leaving Mr Smillie Senior in every parent’s worst nightmare situation of having to keep his son safe and ensuring help came.

As experienced and safety conscious kayakers, both paddlers were wearing lifejackets, and in addition Euan’s father was carrying a mobile phone in a waterproof case. He was able to call the Coastguard who immediately raised the Mayday call - the highest order of distress at sea - requesting the launch of nearby RNLI Kessock Lifeboat.

The volunteer Helm of the Atlantic 85 lifeboat on that day was Kenny Foggo, who recalls the scene as, “a very complex situation. Upon our arrival at the station we could immediately see from shore the very dangerous situation the two casualties were facing and we were all aware of the young age of the son.”

He continued, “We swiftly launched and manoeuvred the lifeboat to throw a line to the casualties and position our boat to effect a safe evacuation. By this point both kayaks had been swept away and so they were fully at the mercy of the falling water and the very sharp edges of the stanchions and the projecting metal work. We were all incredibly relieved to recover them both with no injuries to the station to be checked out by waiting ambulance crew and deemed fit to return home to an even more relieved Mrs Smillie!”

Euan was able to join the RNLI’s pilot “Future Crew” scheme a year or two later and recalls the great satisfaction and pride he felt in training weekly alongside the regular volunteer crew learning the skills to save lives at sea.

After his music training at the University of Highlands and Islands he travelled extensively to pursue his career, and after the formation of Elephant Sessions in 2012 was rarely home for long. However the pandemic allowed Euan the opportunity to resume his RNLI training formally and continue on the crew member plan whenever at home from global touring.

He says, “Our rescue seems a long time ago now but it really brings home to me that events can change so quickly at sea and the fact that the Lifeboat can be launched to the aid of the people in distress is amazing. I am very proud to be part of this volunteer crew and grateful for the public donations which fund all of our training and kit.”

“I have recently been down to the RNLI College in Poole, along with volunteers from Kessock and stations from all around the UK. We completed our Emergency Procedures and Sea Survival course and the experience and facilities were incredible. The public donations to appeals like Mayday make it possible for us to be safely equipped to save lives at sea.”

As Euan says without the support of the public there would be no lifeboats and no lifeboat crews ready to respond when the pager goes. Not all heroes wear yellow wellies; the RNLI fundraisers are the backbone of the organisation and they depend on the public for their time as volunteers aswell as the donations.

If you would like to support your local RNLI Lifesavers they are about to recruit for fundraising crew of all ages and backgrounds. Keep an eye on RNLI Kessock Lifeboat social media pages for more information or message directly with your interest.

RNLI media contacts

Yvette Kershaw , Lifeboat Press Officer, 07809 116153, [email protected]

Natasha Bennett, RNLI Regional Media Officer for Scotland, 07826 900639, [email protected]

Martin Macnamara, RNLI Regional Media Manager for Scotland, 07920 365929, [email protected]

RNLI Press Office, 01202 336789

RNLI online

For more information on the RNLI please visit rnli.org. News releases and other media resources, including RSS feeds, downloadable photos and video, are available at the RNLI News Centre rnli.org/news-and-media.

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 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 142,200 lives.

RNLI/Yvette Kershaw

Kessock Lifeboat Station fundraising on Ben Wyvis for Mayday appeal

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.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

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