Helicopter rescue exercise at sea: A detailed analysis - Capetan Club

SAR helicopter training in the UK

Because many of you have asked us how it was, what happened and wanted to know more details about the UK helicopter story, I'm putting here the whole story described at length and a detailed video, for which we thank Emily who captured all the details.

This amazing experience happened in our course Hands On Tide in the UK, in the area known as The Solent. During our regular night navigation exercise, while trying to find an S cardinal off the Beaulieu River, we had an unexpected surprise - a helicopter approached our boat. I knew only from hearsay that in the Solent, sometimes the coastguard randomly comes up to a boat and asks if you want to participate in an exercise.

Well, let me tell you everything from the beginning. We watched the helicopter from a distance as it flew over the area about 1 mile from us, and watched as it approached us until it came to rest right next to our boat at a distance of about 1 cable. Initially, we were a little surprised, but realized it was a drill or routine check. The noise was quite loud, so we went down to check the VHF station. As expected, they contacted us on channel 16: "sailing vessel near spotlight this is coast guard helicopter. Over" We responded with the name of our boat and at this point they asked if we wanted to participate in a rescue exercise with them. Without a moment's hesitation we replied that we were more than happy to do so.

Communicating with the team in the helicopter was quite challenging, given the noise of the helicopter, the quality of the VHF sound and the strong British accent, but with patience and professionalism, they explained each instruction step by step until we fully understood what we were about to do. We confirmed each step of the exercise step by step and when we didn't understand something, we asked them to repeat until everything was very clear.

For starters, they instructed us to maintain a course of 320 degrees and go at the maximum speed comfortable for our engine. We engaged autopilot on that course and 2200 RPM on the engine. We put Adi in charge to monitor the course, speed and if anything unforeseen happened to disengage the pilot and take over the helm manually. After that, they lowered us a rope equipped with a sack, which we had to grab and bring on board, and retrieve all the slack in the rope ("take all the slack in") - I'd say somewhere around 30m. Which we did.

The next step involved lowering a team member from the helicopter, via a metal cable that at the end was attached to the initial rope that was already on our boat. He communicated with the team in the helicopter to adjust his position via signs and radio headset. We also helped to balance it by pulling on the attached rope. With impressive precision, the rescuer made a touchdown in the stern, port-side and climbed aboard. We helped him a little, to get a foot over the balcony, but surely he could have done it himself... 🙂

I shook his hand and wished him "Welcome on board". The first thing the rescuer did after arriving safely on our boat was to unhook himself from the metal cable. It was a moment of maximum risk because there was a possibility that that metal cable could get caught on some object on the deck of the boat. The whole situation was handled calmly and professionally and it all seemed quite easy.

After unhooking the metal cable, the guest stayed on board for about three minutes, simulating a rescue. This amount of time would have been needed to hook a crew member to his harness, lift him into the helicopter or he could have come on board to provide first aid in an emergency at sea.

After simulating the intervention, the helicopter crew member thanked us for participating and wished us a good evening. We felt honored to be involved in this exercise and reiterated our appreciation for the opportunity to contribute to this type of training.

Before leaving, the team member used the initial rope to pull his cable back and "clipped" himself to it before climbing back to the helicopter. The image of him soaring back up into the sky like in a sci-fi movie was a memorable moment.

Then we gradually released the remaining rope until the rescuer was in the helicopter.

The exercise was a perfect example of the importance of effective communication and crew collaboration in emergency situations. We felt safe throughout the exercise due to the professionalism and experience of those involved.

This experience gave us greater confidence in our navigational skills and showed us the importance of emergency preparedness at sea.

Fair winds and safe sailing!

Capetan: Training the Skippers' Elite

Discover the next practical course in Solent, UK, to be held in March! You can also further enhance your practical experience by attending one of our specialised courses for charter skippers in Greece - Hands-On Practice.

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