In this month’s Confession, we hear how a 999 call resulted in red faces for both the woman at the helm and her rescuers
Having briefly instructed my wife on boat cover duty for scuba divers, we prepared for our drift dive from Durlston Head towards Swanage Bay in Dorset.
Determined to observe all the safety instructions she checked the signal on her mobile phone, as she wasn’t VHF trained, raised the A-flag denoting ‘Divers down’, attached the engine kill cord to her leg and started up.
Everything went according to plan as we ran through our own pre-dive checks, entered the water and descended.
The dive was unremarkable but pleasant. About 30 minutes into the dive we noticed much kerfuffle and revving up above. I was just about to go and investigate what the problem was when the revving finally subsided. About 15 minutes later we made our ascent.
As I surfaced I revolved, as is common practice, only to encounter the massive blue hull of an RNLI lifeboat looming above me. “Oh dear,” I thought to myself, “we have surfaced in the middle of an incident.”
As it happened, a further rotation revealed a total stranger on board my Tornado RIB, with the lifeboat crew mercilessly ribbing their young colleague who had been seconded to replace my wife.
She was now comfortably aboard the lifeboat, trying to explain events to me through hand signals and mime.
During our dive she had realised the A-flag had wrapped itself around the pole, so she had leaned back from the console seat to fix it, to ensure all the rules were fully complied with.
At this point, the engine had chosen to falter and stop. Not one to panic, she tried repeatedly to restart the engine to no avail.
Knowing full well that drifting with no power isn’t advisable in any circumstances, she thought on the spot, dropping the anchor and firmly fixing the line to a transom strong point.
Safety conscious as always, she then decided to contact the coastguard to ask for advice, especially with divers down, which is all very sensible.
Using her mobile phone she dialled 999 and requested the fourth emergency service. She was then asked for details regarding her position, problem and crew numbers, to which “Three divers down” was her reply.
At this point the coastguard operator simply took over, confirming this was now classified as an emergency. Despite protestations from my wife, he promptly dispatched the lifeboat to attend.
This was of course the right decision given the situation, and we were later informed that the RNLI use such events, on occasion, to provide real-life rescue situations for newer crewmembers.
Having safely transferred my embarrassed wife to the lifeboat, an agile lifeboat crewmember was instructed to board the RIB and take command pending our arrival.
On closer inspection at the helm the new recruit had a laugh at my wife’s expense on discovering the cause of ‘engine failure’. In reaching back to adjust the safety flag, she had unwittingly pulled out the kill cord – it could happen to anyone.
From here onwards the story unravels in a logical sequence… right up to the point where the enthusiastic young helmsman replaces the kill cord, starts the engine and roars off, completely oblivious to the firmly attached anchor line!
Thankfully Tornado RIBs are built strong, as the transom was tested to the extreme – so too was the good humour of the helmsman, who lost much more than just his balance as he was nearly catapulted over the grabrail!
Now it was his turn to be red-faced and subject to the ridicule of his older, more experienced colleagues.
And the moral of the tale? When instructing, it’s the detail that counts – even if it appears to be stating the obvious. Such as, always check the kill cord is attached at both ends and, of course, make sure you’re not anchored when you jam the throttle forward!
The author of every confession we print wins the original Stephen Shaw cartoon artwork (above) and an Icom IC-M23 Buoyant VHF Marine Transceiver handheld VHF radio worth £165.
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