The four-strong team based in Newquay were presented with the Edward & Maisie Lewis Award at the annual ceremony held in Fishmongers Hall, London, to recognise skill and gallantry at sea.
The crew of the helicopter – operated and supplied under contract by Bristow Helicopters Ltd – comprised Captain Debdash Bhattacharya, Co-Pilot Mark Coupland, Winch Operator Jason Bibby and the Winch Paramedic Carlton Real.
Between them they rescued eight people from French yacht Gannet which was taking on water after being caught in fierce winds.
The initial alert, just after 9pm on the night of Monday 31 October last year, was to conduct an urgent medical transfer.
But as they flew to the scene the challenge became more complicated with the yacht crew considering abandoning ship, insufficient lifejackets on board, and two of them described as being in a “poor” condition.
Over the next hour, the HM Coastguard crew battled lashing rain, mountainous waves and extremely poor visibility to winch up six of the eight sailors to safety.
Lifting off the last two brought fresh difficulties as it would leave the helm unattended, losing control of the yacht and ability to keep it steady for the helicopter hovering above.
The solution was a manoeuvre known as a triple-man lift – which brought up the remaining pair in one go and completed a rescue mission full of bravery and professionalism.
The yacht was towed to Newlyn by the RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat from Penlee which supported the operation.
Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s Chief Executive Officer Virgina McVea said: “This rescue exemplifies the lifesaving professionalism that HM Coastguard teams all around the UK exhibit every day on air, land and sea.
“It was a hugely difficult and dangerous mission that brought eight people to safety in the face of frightening storm conditions.
“The bravery and skill displayed by the helicopter crew fully deserves this honour from the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society and we’re very grateful for their recognition.”
The Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society offers support to those across the UK who are suffering hardship during or after fulfilling their life at sea.
Captain Justin Osmond RN, Chief Executive of the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society, added: “The rescue of the crew demonstrated the highest standards of judgement, professionalism and co-operation, combined with outstanding initiative and courage.
“The diverse challenges posed by this rescue, including the very real danger to the winchman and casualties caused by the unpredictable motion of the yacht’s mast and rigging, required an exceptional level of skill and judgement from all four members of the crew.
“In responding to these challenges, they are fully deserving of the Edward and Maisie Lewis Award for 2023.”