DATE OF ISSUE: 5 Aug 2016
The need for basic water safety preparations was emphasized on the night of Wednesday last with a dramatic SARA rescue on the Severn Estuary. Lifeboat crews were paged to an emergency by UK Coastguard at about 9.30pm: just when many of them were watching a TV documentary about the RNLI.
A small dingy had suffered engine failure close to the Old Ferry Slipway on the Severn Estuary just after dusk, and was drifting out to sea on the falling tide.
SARA’s largest lifeboat “The Jim Hewitt” call-sign “SARA-1” was launched within 10 minutes of receiving the call. With near gale-force winds blowing directly against the ebbing tide conditions were hazardous indeed.
The lifeboat crew used powerful search lights in likely locations based upon their knowledge of the areas’ winds and tides. The dingy was located after about 20 minutes, on the Bristol side of the estuary not far from the M48 Bridge. It was swamped, taking on water and in danger of being capsized throwing the single occupant into the seas. The SARA crew were astounded to discover that the man had no lifejacket, light or any means of communication. With the dingy safely in tow, he was taken on board the lifeboat and to the safety of Beachley Lifeboat station.
Mervyn Fleming, Commander at SARA’s Beachley and Newport Lifeboat and Rescue Stations said, “This gentleman is lucky to be alive today… the night was not only dark but with the worst weather conditions that have been experienced on the estuary for several months. That anyone should have set out into the estuary in a small craft not much larger that a child’s toy: alone, at dusk, without lights, suitable clothing, a mobile phone or even a lifejacket simply beggars belief! The crew of the lifeboat did very well to find him in the dark amongst the waves. The Severn Estuary is not the place to ‘try out’ newly acquired boats: it is one of the most dangerous areas of water in the UK”.
Richard Hoyle from Chepstow Coastguard said “without prompt action from SARA this could have turned into a tragedy. We advise that all boats carry basic safety equipment, including an anchor and a bailer, and sufficient fuel.”
SARA’s Lifeboat and Rescue Stations at Chepstow and Newport have carried out over thirty rescues so far this year at a cost to the voluntary organisation of approximately £700 per rescue.