Wednesday, 26 January 2011

At the Helm

I've just passed my final assessment for becoming a full inshore helmsman for the RNLI. I'm well chuffed.

It's a difficult balance between wanting to lead a service on the sea and hoping that nobody gets into enough trouble to need us. Thankfully, most of the shouts we get are people cut off by the tide or boats needing a tow and are generally not life threatening.

Don't forget to keep an eye on the tide when walking on the coast. Tide timetables are available locally and also online. They are different by region, so one for Brighton is no good for Blackpool. Google will provide you with a relevant link. Note also that times for high and low tide change daily and tide height, and hence speed of change, also changes, so the tide profile from one week will be significantly different to the next. Weather can have a significant effect too.

If you should get cut off by the tide, phone 999 immediately and ask for the Coastguard. These guys manage the cliff teams, lifeboats and choppers. We'd much rather come out early than late. Don't try to climb dangerous cliffs and don't try to swim out of trouble, you may get caught in a rip tide and taken out to sea.

Keep calm, get as high as you can safely and make yourself obvious to anyone who comes. They may be arriving from the sea, the air or from the land, so you need to be visible from all of these if you can do so safely.

Be as specific as you can when describing your emergency. Include your position, number of people, clothing and ages, if significant. Include any medical issues, including such things as dehydration, hypothermia, sprained ankles or specific medical conditions such as diabetes, heart condition or pregnancy. If you intend to move from your present position, be as specific as you can describing your intentions.

Remember, rescue starts when they know you are in trouble and starts looking where they think you are. The earlier you call and the more accurate you can be with your location, the more quickly you can be found.

If you don't know where you are, any information is good information. An example might go along the lines of:
"We're looking out to sea and the sun is directly in front of us. There is a lighthouse on a rock to my right. There is a big red tanker going from left to right a long way away. We left Bucks Mills an hour ago heading for Westward Ho! We passed some red cliffs half an hour ago and we're in a cove with a rocky beach. The cliffs are very steep. The tide is about 20 metres away and we intend to climb the rocks to a safe ledge which is about eight feet off the beach".
This will give the coastguard and lifeboat crew a significant chance of pinpointing your position, even though it doesn't contain any accurate distances, bearings or times.

On a final note, if you should manage self rescue, do let the coastguard know. Don't be embarrassed that you may have wasted their time, they would much rather you have call and they not be needed than the opposite.

I remember a particular shout where a man had been cut off by the tide. We searched for two hours before finding out that he had long since made it off the coast and to the pub where he was enjoying a pint.

Mutter mutter!

Take part in an open discussion about this article on Facebook