A group of Coastguards in various uniforms stand on a grey, rocky landscape. Above, a Coastguard helicopter is hovering.

Episode Four

Coastguard Episode Four

The action continues in episode four on Sunday 23 July

In the fourth episode of our observational documentary, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) receive a distress alert from a rowing boat in the middle of the Atlantic, the vessel is eight days from shore and out of range of search and rescue helicopters. Meanwhile, teams are called to assist a woman who has fallen off a sea wall. We also see a rescue of two individuals from their yacht by HM Coastguard helicopter crews, with just minutes to spare before the vessel disintegrates. 

A lonely place

The sea can be a very lonely place when things go wrong, with vessels potentially days away from safety. It’s why there are rules compelling fellow sailors from stepping into help, as you never leave a sailor behind. 

This is known as the obligations under SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea). According to Chapter 5 of the International Convention for the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS), a master of a ship is obligated to help any vessel in distress. This rule affects both recreational and commercial vessels and requires any vessel in a position to provide assistance to respond to a maritime mayday message. 

We see this in episode four, as the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) receive a distress alert from a rowing boat in the middle of the Atlantic. The vessel is eight days from shore and out of range of search and rescue helicopters. 

There is however a nearby vessel, and the captain immediately changes course to offer their help. 
A man wearing a HM Coastguard fleece is talking to the camera Watch now

James Billyeald, Team Leader at the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre said: “We (HM Coastguard) are the coordinating and tasking authority for maritime rescues in the UK and we can call on a whole range of assets from our Coastguard Rescue Teams, independent and RNLI lifeboats and the Coastguard Helicopter to vessels in a position to provide assistance.

We coordinate rescues, and it is a vital role. We do a lot more than take distress calls, that’s just the beginning. We are a national emergency service, the only one in the UK in fact, and we oversee a huge area.

He added that HM Coastguard operate a national network, meaning any of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) or the JRCC can pick up a distress call and coordinate a rescue, regardless of the proximity to the area. 

But some of the MRCCs have specific functions, such as the Vessel Traffic System (VTS) in Dover or long-range maritime overview from the JRCC, responding to UK-registered vessels from anywhere in the world.

HM Coastguard has a strong relationship with various agencies and resources to ensure incidents are responded to as quickly as possible, with the appropriate assets and skillsets.  

During this episode you will see not only Coastguard Rescue Teams in action, but lifeboats from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and SAR helicopters, joining forces to respond to those important 999 calls. These resources work together and support each other, both physically and mentally, to achieve a successful as possible outcome for those in need.  

As well as calling on partners and particular assets to coordinate a rescue, HM Coastguard also works closely with police, lifeguards, ambulance services, fire and rescue and mountain rescue teams, to name a few. 

If you find yourself in trouble, no matter where you are, UK Search and Rescue will be ready to help. 
A coastguard rescue vehicle Watch now

Award-winning rescue on show

“Sheer relief, it was the most incredible feeling to see the helicopter arriving, I thought we were goners,” owner Mark said, about the dramatic rescue off the rocks you will see in this weekend’s episode of Coastguard.

Winch paramedic Abi receiving her Billy Deacon Award

"If the coastguard paramedic hadn’t been willing to risk her own life to rescue us that day, we would have been goners."

Abi Wild, who you have already met (in episode three) is the winch paramedic involved.

She was awarded a prestigious aviation award for her efforts in rescuing two people from the yacht as it broke up around them. 

You can relive the rescue with Abi, as she bravely winches down to a vessel fully exposed to the might of the sea and disintegrating around its two occupants. 

How it all went wrong

Mark and Deborah decided to first travel along the south coast of England, visiting family, friends and enjoying the beautiful British coastline. They struggled however with increasing inclement weather, even getting waylaid in Cowes Harbour for nearly five days. 

“We tried to keep moving but we seemed to keep getting caught up and we were moving from one storm to another,” Mark said. 

“We decided to just do the short hop to Plymouth when it looked calm – all of the equipment and forecasts said the weather wasn’t going to be bad, so we thought we could make it. And then it all went wrong, very wrong.” 

Mark said the engine on the Transworld 41 vessel was brand new and that the couple sailed along the coast with no expectation of issues, even if conditions worsened. But, as they reached the picturesque and jagged coastline at Salcombe, the engine failed. 

“It just stopped,” he said. “I kept trying to get it going but it was dead. So I tried to get the sails up but the wind was blowing us straight at the rocks. I realised pretty quickly that we were in trouble and that I was going to struggle to sail out of it.”

The call for help

Deborah put out a Pan Pan call for help as Mark dropped the anchor, hoping to keep the vessel in open water and prevent it hitting Salcombe’s cliffs, but the sea was too powerful. The sailing vessel drifted on to the rocks, prompting a Mayday.

“She hit the outer rocks and it was just awful,” Mark said. “It was terrifying to feel the boat scraping and tearing along the rocks, knowing the boat was all that was keeping us out of the water. 

“And then the waves lifted us right over those outer rocks and into the middle of it all, it was the scariest moment of my life. I was terrified for my girlfriend as she isn’t an experienced sailor. 

“The waves were relentless, they just kept coming. The boat sunk even lower in the water and it was so hard to hold on with the waves crashing over the top of us. We could see a lifeboat but knew they couldn’t get to us, I thought we were done for.
A yacht in distress out at sea Watch now

Help arrives

Mark said neither he nor Deborah were aware the search and rescue helicopter from Newquay had been dispatched, as the radio had quickly flooded and become unusable.

“It was the biggest relief, it’s hard to explain what it meant to see the helicopter coming," Mark said. “We had nearly been washed off the boat several times and we were at our limit. We were lucky to still be on the boat when the helicopter arrived."

"It’s really scary to think what could have happened if the helicopter arrived just five minutes later.” 

Winch paramedic, Abi, said that the original plan had been to winch the two sailors one by one but, when she finally got a grip on the boat’s decking, it immediately became obvious that would not work. 

“The conditions looked rough but it wasn’t until I got down there that I realised how bad they were. It took me several attempts to even get to them, with the wind and the waves, I couldn’t grab on.

“They were exhausted, you could see it in their eyes, they were close to giving up,” she said. “The yacht had started breaking up and I knew that we needed to take them both at the same time, there wasn’t time for anything else."

Two men and a woman stand in front of a HM Coastguard helicopter. The woman is dressed in orange winch paramedic overalls.

The aftermath

Abi only joined the team of Captain Ivan Hamilton, Winch Operator Ian Copley and Pilot Paul Forbes last July, after graduating as one of the first helicopter winch cadets, having spent nine years as a paramedic. 

Ian had high praise for his colleague, as well as his pilot, who kept the helicopter steady and unmoving despite the conditions. 

“Much more experienced guys couldn’t have managed it” he said. “It was a fantastic bit of work by both Abi and Paul, there was absolutely no room for error, and they didn’t make any.” 

“It’s only looking back that I realise how gnarly the situation was,” Abi added. “I think because I’d never done a job like that, I didn’t know the waves were going to be that big. 

“I’m just so grateful that it went well, and that everyone is fine.” 

Although Mark and Deborah lost their home and most of their belongings in the incident, they know they are lucky to be alive. 

“I’ll get another boat again” Mark said. “I need a bit of time first though, it’s heartbreaking to think about the time and effort put into that boat, and all of our possessions lost too, but this hasn’t put me off the water or my love of sailing.” 

Tune in on Sundays, 9pm on Channel 5.

You can also catch up on Channel 5 On Demand. Find out more about what happened in each of the previous episodes below.

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