Boat safety: Look after your boat or risk life, limb and all your funds

Boat safety: Look after your boat or risk life, limb and all your funds

This week’s episode of Coastguard, the penultimate of series one, will see the sinking of a recreational yacht as the documentary explores recreational sailing and how often HM Coastguard responds to calls for help from leisure sailors.
Vessel aground on chalky beach

The appeal of one person and the sea is huge for so many and it is a dream of some to one day get their own yacht.

It is never anyone’s dream or intention to ground or sink it. But it happens.

Like the 16-metre sailing vessel that grounded at the base of the famous Seven Sisters cliffs this time last year, after dragging anchor in high winds.

Vessel aground and out of water under chalk cliff
Vessel before it was towed, following grounding incident last year

It is an incident that perfectly demonstrates how various elements of HM Coastguard work together to protect both people and the environment, as well as a warning to recreational boat users of how quickly a boat can run into serious problems. 

Even when you do everything right, it can go wrong anyway; the MCA strongly advises owners to make sure their vessel is insured, for protection against escalating costs, should the worst happen.

It was early morning on 25 July 2022 that HM Coastguard received a call from a sailor concerned about his vessel dragging anchor and approaching cliffs. Just minutes later a Mayday distress call was received from the vessel, with the sole occupant now reporting it had hit rocks and was taking on water off the coast of Newhaven.

Birling Gap Coastguard Rescue Team were sent, alongside Newhaven RNLI lifeboat and the Coastguard helicopter from Lydd, to help. On arrival, the helicopter was able to winch the man to safety when it became apparent the vessel had become stranded on the rocky terrain at the base of the white cliffs.

With no one left to rescue, all eyes turned to recovery of the vessel, known in the maritime sector as ‘salvage’, and protection of the environment from any pollutants onboard. But it was not going to be easy, with the vessel firmly embedded in the chalk beach and too little water coming in on the tide to raise it enough to pull it back out to sea.

Crack to red keel of a yacht

The vessel owner was required to find and engage a salvage company to recover the vessel, with the MCA’s Counter Pollution and Salvage team monitoring progress of the recovery efforts, supporting where possible and liaising with local council and environmental stakeholders to ensure the least environmental impact. 

It was quickly apparent that the location on the ecologically protected and hard-to-access beach meant a sea salvage would be the only option, while efforts were made to remove any fuel and oil from onboard.

The vessel had suffered rudder damage and several dents to its hull on first going to ground, but poor weather caused it to drag further onto the beach causing added damage including cracks in the steel hull. And it was deeply embedded in the chalk, so a high spring tide was needed for removal. But the first available date was more than two weeks after the vessel first went to ground.

On the day of recovery, airbags were deployed around the hull alongside tow points attached to a tow line and the vessel was eventually refloated, only to be beached again when unseen damage caused it to take on water .Further on-site repairs were needed before the vessel was eventually towed to a safe haven.

Whilst grounded, the vessel suffered some vandalism as well as further damage to the hull caused by wave action, increasing the difficulty and cost of getting the vessel seaworthy once more. A sad story of how a vessel grounding can have long-term consequences.


Recreational sailing: Checklist

  • Buying a boat brings with it some considerable responsibilities.
  • Know your vessel and both its and your limitations – the sea can be unforgiving.
  • Be prepared for those ‘just in case’ occasions – know what to do in an emergency.
  • Always be aware of the weather, the tides and the currents.
  • You insure your car – so insure you boat.


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