Dramatic Devon sea rescue as sailor falls overboard

Exmouth RNLI's all-weather lifeboat R & J Welburn
-Credit: (Image: John Thorogood)

It's been a busy bank holiday weekend for Exmouth RNLI as crews rescued a lone sailor who had fallen overboard and five people stuck on a vessel which had lost power. The two incidents happened on Saturday, May 25 and Sunday, May 26.

Exmouth RNLI’s inshore lifeboat George Bearman II was launched on Saturday within five minutes of being alerted by a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) to a person who had fallen overboard. It was followed rapidly by the all-weather lifeboat R & J Welburn and five crew members.

The Coastguard also broadcast a Mayday alert to all nearby vessels requesting any possible assistance. Both lifeboats made their way to the location, along with a passing private motor vessel.


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The motor vessel arrived at the scene first and pulled the casualty from the water. Exmouth RNLI said he was then transferred, via the inshore lifeboat, to the safety to the all-weather lifeboat.

Once the crew were happy that the casualty required no further medical attention, they made their way back to his sailing vessel and deployed a crew member onboard to help get it back under control. The casualty skipper then felt he was well enough to re-join his vessel, so accompanied by a crew member and escorted by the lifeboat, made his way back to the River Exe and the boat’s original mooring.

Exmouth RNLI volunteer Deputy Coxswain, Roy Stott said: "It was a great outcome for everyone involved, as when a person is in the water things can very quickly deteriorate with tragic consequence. The casualties' life was almost certainly saved by the combination of his safety equipment including his Personal Locator Beacon and lifejacket.

"It gave us an accurate location of where he was, whilst keeping him afloat until help arrived. Also a sincere thanks to the skipper of the motor vessel that responded and pulled the individual from the water. A real one crew effort and a life saved."

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The following day on Sunday (May 26) at approximately 12:40pm, Exmouth’s all-weather lifeboat was launched to a 17m (55ft) motor vessel that had issued a PanPan call having broken down 26 miles east of Berry Head. Upon arrival, the volunteer crew assessed the situation and established that the vessel’s automatic fire suppression system had triggered, preventing the engine from operating.

Given the challenging weather conditions with 3m swells and the vessel not able to use its engine, there was no way for the family onboard (two adults and three children) to return safely to shore. They were also suffering with sea sickness. So, the Coxswain decided that towing to the nearest point of safety was the most appropriate course of action.

It was a lengthy 26m trip back to Torquay at a speed of four knots, taking over five hours. Upon arrival, the vessel was safely secured alongside and the crew then made the journey back to Exmouth to refuel and prepare the lifeboat again for service. The very tired volunteers finally left the lifeboat station after a gruelling 11 hours from the first page.

A spokesperson for Exmouth RNLI said: "Some of the volunteer lifeboat crew who responded to the call on Sunday were taking part in a cricket match at the Exmouth Cricket Club Charity Day. There were still enough volunteers to muster a team to play and heavy showers did not deter them, as they’re well used to being out in poor weather conditions.

"All proceeds from the event were being donated to the lifesaving charity. Everyone at Exmouth RNLI thanks Exmouth Cricket Club for arranging the day and to the other cricket teams who joined from Exmouth Cricket Club, Exmouth Rowing Club and Exmouth Rugby Club. It was a family friendly day with live music, bars, food and included free cricket coaching for local children."