Exmouth RNLI inshore lifeboat George Bearman launched at 7.40pm on 17 September, following reports of four people in difficulty in the river Exe between Topsham and Turf Locks.
The casualties had called 999 for the police from a mobile phone after their small sailing day boat had struck an underwater object, causing their boat to flood. The two men and two women had been sailing up river towards Topsham but were unaware of their precise location. Their boat was not equipped with lights or flares and light was fading quickly in a quiet area of the river Exe.
Crew volunteers were on scene within 14 minutes and found the casualties standing on their sinking boat up to their waists in water, clinging to the two masts. The three volunteers helped the casualties off the sailing boat, into the D class lifeboat and transferred them to awaiting Exmouth coastguard and Devon and Cornwall police teams at Topsham. Rescue 169 RAF Sea King helicopter from Chivenor and Teignmouth coastguards were also tasked but stood down. The casualties’ boat, which had suffered hull damage was towed to a local boatyard in Topsham.
Volunteer Helm, Roger Jackson commented: ‘They were four very lucky people – there’s usually no-one around in this part of the river at night and it was getting dark as we set off to search for them. They had embarked on a simple journey up river but found themselves in difficulty and called the police. Within a short amount of time, a lot of water had caused the boat to sink very quickly and if we hadn’t arrived when we did, it could have been a different story altogether.’