Features Directory
Mark Smith
Published 15 September 2011

Surely there can’t be anyone out there?

I have been a volunteer with the

Royal National Lifeboat Institution for 28 years. On the day this photo was taken I was working from home in Brighton (as a commercial manager for British Telecom). The wind was blowing very hard from the south-west so the sea was extremely rough. When my pager went off, I thought: "Surely there can't be anyone out there?"

Source: RNLI/Eddie Mitchell

Two crew members were already at the lifeboat station in Brighton marina, ready to launch our inshore vessel, the Thelma Glossop. We were told someone had gone overboard from a yacht.

The RNLI station at Newhaven also launched its all-weather vessel and Solent coastguard's search and rescue helicopter was on its way.

We found the yacht a quarter of a mile south of the marina. There was a man in the sea attached to the yacht by his safety line but his lifejacket, inflated, was covering his head. We had no idea if he was conscious.

Waves were breaking over the bow of the yacht and we had to make a decision: should we cut him loose and pick him out of the water or find another way?

I decided to put one of my crew on board. He established that the man was conscious, pulled him back on deck, gave him a quick medical assessment and then helped guide the yacht into the marina.

The all-weather lifeboat from Newhaven had arrived at this point -- that's the boat in the picture. They stayed on the weather side of the yacht, protecting it from the high waves.

It took about 30 minutes to get the yacht back to the lifeboat pontoon, and to the paramedics. The yacht's crew were in a state of shock from their neardeath experience -- it often hits people afterwards; they become emotional.

We recovered our lifeboat, washed it down and refuelled, then I headed off home. It was back to the spreadsheets for me. You get the salt off your face and get on with work.

Mark Smith is a senior helmsman at Brighton RNLI Lifeboat Station.

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