A MAN stranded at night in a sinking dinghy in the River Severn with no communications, no life jacket and no light, was saved by the Severn Area Rescue Association (SARA) last Wednesday (3rd August).

The volunteer crew came to the rescue of the inflatable boat after it suffered engine troubles in rough conditions.

The boat was near the Old Ferry Slipway under the Old Severn Bridge when its problems started and it began drifting out with the tide.

SARA’s largest lifeboat The Jim Hewitt, or SARA-1, was launched within 10 minutes of receiving the call. With near gale-force winds blowing directly against the ebbing tide conditions were hazardous.

The lifeboat crew used powerful search lights in likely locations based upon their knowledge of the areas’ winds and tides. The dingy was located after about 20 minutes, on the Bristol side of the estuary not far from the M48 Bridge. It was swamped, taking on water and in danger of being capsized throwing the single occupant into the sea. The SARA crew were astounded to discover that the man had no lifejacket, light or any means of communication. With the dingy safely in tow, he was taken on board the lifeboat and to the safety of Beachley Lifeboat station.

Mervyn Fleming, Commander at SARA’s Beachley and Newport Lifeboat and Rescue Stations said: “We were called at 9.20pm and we towed him back in, getting back at 10.20pm with eight crew going out on the number one lifeboat.

“This gentleman is lucky to be alive.

“The night was not only dark but with the worst weather conditions that have been experienced on the estuary for several months. That anyone should have set out into the estuary in a small craft not much larger than a child’s toy: alone, at dusk, without lights, suitable clothing, a mobile phone or even a lifejacket simply beggars belief! The crew of the lifeboat did very well to find him in the dark amongst the waves. The Severn Estuary is not the place to ‘try out’ newly acquired boats: it is one of the most dangerous areas of water in the UK.”

With any trip out onto the water there is potential for a dangerous situation to develop so Mr Flemming advised all those going out to take the proper precautions. He said:

“We advise those going out on the estuary to be throughly prepared and to phone the coast guard when you go out and when you come in.”

Richard Hoyle, Deputy Station Officer for Chepstow Coastguard said “This was a challenging rescue in darkness involving a small vessel with no means of communication. Without prompt action from SARA this could have turned into a tragedy.

“We recommend wearing a life-jacket and carrying a handheld VHF radio, mini-flares as well as a charged mobile phone when using a small vessel in the River Severn.”

SARA’s Lifeboat and Rescue Stations at Chepstow and Newport have carried out over thirty rescues so far this year at a cost to the voluntary organisation of approximately £700 per rescue.