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We're an island nation, drawn to the sea that surrounds us.
For many, it's a playground.
For others, it's where we earn our living.
But the sea's unpredictable.
It can change in an instant,
and when accidents happen,
they happen very fast.
The sea is a dangerous place.
You don't respect the sea, the sea will bite you.
There to save our lives is a volunteer army
of nearly 5,000 ordinary people -
ready to leave their jobs, their families, to race to our rescue.
It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up,
to know that if it wasn't for you, that person wouldn't be here.
They rescued me, but they also saved a mum, a daughter, a sister, a wife.
Oh, my gosh.
To see someone disappear under the water
right in front of you is brutal,
it's absolutely horrendous.
Equipped with their own cameras...
-Is my light flashing?
-Yeah, is mine?
..the crews give us a unique insight
into every call-out as only they see it.
Right, there's another little wave.
Speeding through the roughest weather,
searching for people who may only have moments to live.
Can you still hear me?
For those who risk their lives, it has become a way of life.
When those pagers go off, it's life and death.
Every year, the UK and Ireland's lifeboats launch up to 10,000 times.
Here at Ilfracombe, on the north coast of Devon,
the crew were called out on 77 occasions last year.
They rescued 55 people from the treacherous waters
of the Bristol Channel.
The tides here, huge tides, lots of currents.
Yeah, it will sweep you out, it will take you off, it will cut you off.
People jumping in the sea when it's, you know, nice and warm outside,
the sea is still very cold.
You can go into all kinds of shocks and then get swept against the
current, so yeah, quite a dangerous place to be, if you're unprepared.
A spring day.
The volunteers of Ilfracombe are paged for help.
When the pager goes off and you're in the boathouse,
it seems like the loneliest place in the world,
because for the first 30 seconds to a minute, no-one else turns up.
When my pager went off for that job, I was up a ladder,
which is about the worst place for it to go off.
Then everyone starts peeling in.
"Dog." And that was the word that was given to me.
"What is it?" "Dog."
What, a dog, dog cut off, dog fallen off?
"Dog." Oh, OK.
Then you kind of tend to relax a wee bit.
You're like, "OK, dog, OK."
And then it came through as people in the water.
Just 100 metres from the station,
a dog has fallen off rocks into the sea.
Alerted by the shouts of the owner,
two local men have dived in to try and rescue it
and are now in trouble themselves.
As soon as it's updated to we've got PEOPLE in the water
then the urgency increases, obviously.
At that time of year the water is very cold,
it's not somewhere you want to be in,
unless you're wearing the correct protective clothing.
So instantly it is the first few people through the door, then is,
we're going out on that boat and we're going to get there
as quickly as possible.
The water was still really cold.
I'd been surfing the day before and was still in gloves and a hoodie.
In March, average sea temperatures are at their lowest.
Survival time in the water can be less than ten minutes.
The crew reach the bay in under two.
Unfortunately, that's still too late to save the dog.
I saw a dog floating,
and as we started getting closer to the dog, I said to Lee at the helm,
that we've got two people in the water ahead of us.
The two men, a father and son,
have only been in the sea for a few minutes, but are clearly in trouble.
We could see that they were going to be extremely cold.
It was a bit of a giveaway, the way they were holding on to the rocks,
as well, in that they weren't able to drag themselves any further
out of the water, which would be your instant reaction
if you were in water that cold.
One of the guys that was in the deepest,
certainly he looked the worst.
-Get the dog first.
-We'll get you first, mate.
Do you want to jump on?
Helmsman Lee has to navigate submerged rocks to get to the men.
The boat becomes part of you, you know what the boat's going to do,
you can see the sea coming in,
you know how the boat's going to react and you're constantly
moving the engine, moving the gears,
just to keep you in that nice stationary position,
to give yourself the best platform to help these people.
I took the boat in as close as I could to them,
without crushing them against the shore, which was the key thing.
Just keep going. Well done, mate.
The two men are safe from the sea,
but their condition is concerning the crew.
Right, how are you two doing?
You're all right, yeah?
I was worried about the father, because he was very,
he was kind of purple, he didn't look at all oxygenated,
he just looked like he was in trouble.
I gave him a capillary refill check,
which is you press on their forehead and basically wait
for that white dot to disappear,
and that will tell you how quickly their heart's beating.
I was more worried about he was going to have a heart attack.
He just looked, at that stage,
like he'd either had one or was going to have one.
He was very pale and kind of purply.
His lips were quite blue,
so cyanotic, so not too healthy looking.
Coastguard, just to inform you, sir, that we have two casualties on board
and one dog. Three crew members, we're heading back.
Do you want an ambulance?
The crew keep a close eye on the men as they head back to shore.
I was just aching all over.
I was just in the boat shaking, I was going blue.
Tony lives in a house overlooking the bay.
After hearing shouts from the dog's owner,
he and his son ran over to try to help.
I know what it's like to lose a pet, I've lost one,
and it's not nice.
They're part of the family, aren't they?
When I first dove in
and started swimming through the first current, it was easy,
but until you got further out and then the waves are hitting you,
it's a lot harder to keep trying to go.
But once I got the dog, I was just absolutely drained.
I was just trying to keep afloat.
I didn't really judge how bad it was.
So the plan was for me to go in and bring the dog back to my son
and he was hanging onto the side.
But every time I was trying to give him the dog,
the waves were whacking us up against the rocks.
You couldn't really get a decent grip on it,
because it's all, like, slate.
Every time you grabbed hold of it, it was cutting your fingers.
I was so tired, I was just hanging on for dear life.
It could have been a hell of a lot worse, if it wasn't for them.
If it had been late at night or there was no-one there,
I think it would have possibly had a different outcome.
I think they could have lasted a little bit longer,
or a couple of more people would have got in
and the situation would have got hugely worse.
Are you all right?
I'm going to grab you under the arm, all right?
If it happened again,
you'd probably think about it a little bit more.
But I'd still probably do it.
I know that's not the right attitude to have,
but it's the chance you take, innit?
Although it was too late to save the dog,
after a hot cup of tea back at the station,
Tony and his son made full recoveries.
For the Ilfracombe crew, it's two more lives saved,
to add to almost 400 saved across the UK and Ireland
by lifeboats every year.
I've experienced the birth of my kids,
I've experienced happy occasions, weddings,
but there's no other feeling like it.
To reunite a child with their parents
or to take somebody back ashore that thought
they were in real dire trouble,
or to pull somebody out of the water,
there's no other feeling like it.
knowing that they're going to wake up the next day
and you're the reason that they're waking up the next day,
that you've helped them.
It's not just that one person, it's their group of family,
their group of friends. You've saved a whole community, if you like,
It gives you a nice warm feeling,
that you have made that difference between life and death.
Though the vast majority of lifeboat stations are on the coast,
the busiest is here in central London, on the River Thames.
Every year, the crew at Tower respond to over 500 emergencies.
Tower has so many calls
that it is one of just four stations in the country crewed 24/7.
Hello, Coastguard to Tower Lifeboat,
that's us finished our small exercise
and we're now shut down and back at Lifeboat Pier. Thanks.
Chris is one of ten full-time crew members who staff the station
round-the-clock, alongside 55 volunteers.
All the full-timers have to know the river really intimately.
But that takes a bit of time to build up that knowledge,
and when you're starting to the job, it's very daunting.
In the heart of the capital,
the Tower crew are confronted by life and death situations
on a daily basis.
Many of their call-outs are to people in trouble in the water,
and response times are critical.
To help them, they're equipped with the fastest lifeboat in the fleet -
the E class can reach speeds of over 40 knots.
We have a remit where we've got to be able to reach any part on our
patch within 15 minutes, which...
The speed of the boats, we're doing up to 45 knots in some cases,
we can easily achieve that.
We have an elevated number of
despondent individuals on bridges,
be it mental health care issues,
maybe people that are suicidal that are on the bridge for a cry of help.
We do visit a fair few times the bridges,
but we literally get everything and anything thrown in between.
It can be anywhere on the river.
A call comes in from the Coastguard.
A man has been seen entering the water.
The crew launch in under 60 seconds.
There are some jobs where you don't have to
necessarily go hell for leather.
But when you've got that person in the water,
literally seconds count.
You know that somebody could die or has died,
and you've got to get there quickly.
The tide was ripping in, a good 3-4 knots.
It was cold.
It's November, and the 75th call to a person in the river
they've received since January.
The crew have no idea how or why he's in the water,
but they know that with the river temperature under 9 degrees,
he may only have minutes to live.
That sudden gasp, the uncontrollable gasp.
Your heart rate goes up, your breathing rate goes up.
That initial exposure to cold shock
can cause a heart attack or an incapacitating stroke.
Somebody can start drowning the minute
they hit the water, and drowning doesn't take long.
To see someone disappear under the water right in front of you,
where three, four seconds earlier, you probably could have
effected a rescue is brutal, it's absolutely horrendous,
and there's nothing you can do about it.
You beat yourself up, but there's nothing you can do.
So, yeah, very much our goal to get there in good time.
Less than two minutes after getting the call,
the crew reach the location
the man was seen entering the water, but he's disappeared.
Even on the Thames in the middle of London,
you'd expect, with all the streetlights
and the ambient lighting, that it would actually make it easier,
but when you've got water that's disturbed and the reflections
are constantly warping, it's very hard to pinpoint someone.
You're also starting to work out in YOUR mind
where that person will be by the time you get there,
because the tide will have carried that person away
from where they entered the water.
We did an immediate hasty search...
Couldn't find anything.
Conducted further search, sticking to the north shore,
where he'd initially been spotted,
and still nothing found.
They're not in the vicinity.
The tide was running quite fast, so we said, right,
we will search as far as Blackfriars rail bridge.
Nothing to see, nothing to see, searchlights out,
really doing our level best to find this individual.
Could you chuck us in close to the barge, mate?
Just have a wee look down the edge of the barge.
It's now been five minutes since the call came in.
As the seconds tick by and the search area is widened,
the chances of finding the man alive are falling.
Had he been swimming and shouting and in a good condition,
we would have seen that and heard that, but we heard nothing,
so we realised by the amount of time that had elapsed,
that this might not have a good outcome.
Here... Here, here, here, here, here.
Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop.
-Back two foot, back two foot.
Got a belt.
Go towards the front, if you can get him.
Steady that. One, two, three.
Come on! One, two, three.
Keep going. Keep going.
Keep going, come on, fella.
When you've got someone that's not actively helping you
get them into the boat, so that horrible term of a dead weight,
it is REALLY difficult.
And depending on why the person's ended up in the water
in the first place, we do have occasions where people
weigh themselves down, which all makes it really, really tricky.
One, two, three.
Very quickly the assessment showed that he was not breathing.
There's definitely an element of hope,
because if you didn't have that element of hope,
then you wouldn't start in the first place.
It's like looking at that casualty having only half a percent chance
of survivability, even half a percent chance...
..you'll try it, because you have hope that that half percent
is enough to bring that person back.
Even though statistically it's working against you,
you've got to have hope.
At Tower Station,
an ambulance team is waiting to take the casualty to hospital.
When he left us, he had electrical heart activity,
so technically alive.
Despite the crew's best efforts,
he was later pronounced dead at hospital.
People that say lifeboat crew don't cry tell lies.
Lifeboat crew cry.
You know, we are human beings,
we're not superheroes, we're human beings.
We're just like anybody else,
just exposed to situations where most people wouldn't be exposed to.
Definitely changes your perspective on life.
Being exposed to death like that,
it helps make you value what you've got,
and how quickly you could potentially lose everything.
The way I view life is quite different,
as a result of my exposure to death.
You do sort of remember the ones that, you know,
we've not been able to save.
The way we deal with it, as a station,
that's where we pull together even closer.
We have to move on, and our focus then is the next job,
making sure that we can do our best to save life.
The popular seaside town of Minehead lies on the northern coast
of Exmoor National Park in Devon.
The lifeboat station here was established at the request
of local residents, and has now been running for nearly 120 years.
It's the California of the West Country!
You can climb in the morning and surf in the afternoon.
We've got wonderful hills and spectacular coastline.
In between shouts, Minehead crew member Jim keeps himself busy
with his adventure sports company,
and can usually be found close to the station.
I'm on call, yeah. We're on call all the time,
so the station is literally over there, at the harbour.
So, if the pagers go off,
then, yeah, we just run, get on our bikes or jump in the car and go.
I've been on the crew for about seven years now.
A bit of a latecomer, but there comes a time in life
where you want to give something back and, yeah, that's what I did.
Oh. Sorry, we've got to go.
DLA pager, launch request from the Coastguard.
When the Minehead pagers do go off,
the crew here launch into the fast-flowing waters
of the Bristol Channel,
and guard a stretch of coast so rugged
it's earned the nickname Little Switzerland.
The coastline between here and Plymouth
contains some of the highest sea cliffs in England.
I think, overall, the height of the slopes coming straight down
into the sea there is about 800 feet.
To cover their challenging patch,
the crew here have two inshore lifeboats -
a highly manoeuvrable D class for accessing the bays and inlets
along their shoreline, and a larger Atlantic B class,
for when the most important thing is speed.
March in Minehead is low season.
Ten o'clock on a blustery Saturday night,
the pagers bring the crew running to the station.
Just gotten into bed and than the pager went off,
so it was a scramble to get down to the station.
The job was a missing person search, was the brief that we had.
The crew have been called out by the coastguard.
A woman in her 20s has been reported missing.
She hasn't been seen for over five hours and there are fears
that she was heading for the high sea cliffs
along this stretch of coast.
She was reported as a despondent female.
She was potentially suicidal.
It's not a great prospect.
The mood amongst the crew is always just acutely professional,
that's the best way I can describe it.
We all know what we might be faced with.
Both of Minehead's lifeboats are launched.
The coastguard have tasked them to scour the coastline to the west.
What's the search plan, have we got one?
We knew the coastguards were searching the land,
so our focus is on searching areas that they couldn't possibly see
from where they are.
The process of scanning the shoreline in the dark
is quite challenging at some points,
because if you're out for quite a long while,
I think your mind plays tricks on you.
Mate, shine your light on those rocks.
That's not a person, is it? Is it a white splodge? Oh...
If you're shining the light on the rocks, you know, if they're wet,
sometimes the reflection,
you sort of think you've seen something
and then you have a closer look and, you know,
it's just a wetness or the shapes of the rocks.
The crew cover a mile and a half of coastline
with no sign of the missing woman.
Beyond this point,
the cliffs rise up 80 metres in the air and are covered in thick shrub.
Nobody's going to make their way out here.
Suddenly, they spot what seems to be a light onshore.
The light kept going out,
so we didn't actually know what it was at that point.
The small D class lifeboat heads in closer to investigate.
-Yeah, I can hear it.
-FAINT VOICE IN DISTANCE
-They are shouting "help", they are shouting "help".
It's the missing woman, desperately trying to attract their attention.
There's so much tree cover,
had it not been for the light of a mobile phone screen,
we wouldn't have seen her at all.
Stay where you are!
They may have found the casualty, but now the crew have to reach her.
It's a pathless wilderness that's almost impossible to penetrate.
Before that, they have to get onshore,
but strong winds have whipped up the sea.
-It's pretty big for a beach landing.
-Oh, Christ, yeah.
Normally, you know, in some conditions you can do
a beach landing and just beach the boat,
but there was way too much of a swell for it.
Right, I'm going to do a veering down here.
To get the boat safely to shore, the team opt to veer down -
a tricky manoeuvre, even in calm conditions, in daylight.
Veering down is where you drop the anchor and power back on the anchor,
with the anchor holding you.
The theory being that the boat's always anchored
with the anchor in a safe position,
beyond the back of the breaking waves.
-That's holding, I think.
That's holding, mate.
Holding the boat on the anchor line,
they manage to get within a few feet of the beach,
but someone still has to make the last stretch to shore.
Charlie had done the veering down, Richard was on the helm, so, yeah,
I was the spare part, so I said, I'll go, yeah.
It was quite a big swell and so we had to definitely wait for
the right moment, otherwise he would have got wiped out by the swell.
-Yeah, that will do, won't it?
Obviously you've got your radio and you know that they're still there,
but you're physically leaving
the hand on the back of your life jacket type comforts.
Yeah, so always a bit nervous, yeah.
And as he went in, one wave did sort of dump it on him.
When I eventually got on shore,
there was only really one way up to her location
and that was up the waterfall, which was a kind of stepped waterfall,
so it was sort of ten-foot rocky steps.
Number two, there's some difficult climbing to do.
I'll make my way up. Just so you know where I am, over.
After six minutes of climbing, Jim reaches the missing woman,
only to discover she isn't alone.
The Lynemouth Coastguard teams had tried to come in from above,
and one of their Coastguards had made it to her location,
which was incredible, actually.
So fair dos to him.
OK, you're going to get very wet.
Grab that hat, mate, I think that might be your hat.
My name's Jim.
When I arrived, he was with the casualty.
Had a quick assessment,
said she was walking and cold,
but otherwise unharmed, which was fantastic.
Lots of thanks
and apologetic as well, actually, that we were all in that place.
But I said, "Look, don't worry about it, it's great here!"
Could do with a machete in here, actually.
There was a bit of Indiana Jones about the whole thing.
It was just a ludicrous place to be.
Jim has no idea how the casualty got there,
but now it's his job to try to get her out.
There's a step over there, but then...
Your feet are there.
My feet are here. This is the next step.
You know, you couldn't move,
the gaps between the brambles were sort of one foot wide.
Well done, good work. Then we'll step out here onto these dry stones.
We've got dry suits with big wellies and so on, and she just had
normal clothing and shoes and was cold,
and it's a rocky, bouldery beach.
So are you a bit chilly? Shall we put this hood up?
OK, so your feet will get wet here but you'll stand up OK.
OK, let's step down, go for it.
One step at a time, there's no rush.
There you go, jump aboard.
Half carry, half cajole, and then threw her onto the boat!
Yeah, there's no dignity, you know, not for any of us.
The casualty is transferred to the larger Atlantic lifeboat,
to speed her to a waiting ambulance onshore.
That was definitely a life saved, yeah.
An individual wouldn't last the night in what she was wearing,
in that situation, in that environment, yeah.
In the end, it was a cry for help,
so, yeah, she was a lucky lady.
The Coastguard had a nice little boat trip as well.
It was a good outcome, because they're not all like that.
The small village of Moelfre nestles on the north-east coast
of the Isle of Anglesey in Wales.
Moelfre used to be a busy fishing village.
Today, the locals are more likely to be pulling in the tourists
who flock to this part of the coast.
Get the ice cream ready, it is going to be a nice day, I think.
Sisters Gwenda and Dwynwen run the Siwgwr Lwmp Cafe.
You've got the rocks where you get the fishermen,
they like to go,
which is good for us, the early-morning breakfast fishing.
Many Moelfre residents still have a connection with the sea.
Dwynwen has been volunteering for the lifeboat crew
for the last 18 years.
I park my car directly across the road,
facing the station, so when I get called out,
I literally stop what I'm doing here, apologise while running out,
jump in the car, and I can be in the station within one to two minutes.
So if you think July, August time, it's still pretty cold in that sea,
the quicker we are, the better.
On a windy July day, a walker on local cliffs has dialled 999.
The caller has spotted a kayak out at sea.
One person's on board,
a second is in the water beside him and appears to be in trouble.
You don't know how long they've been in the water for.
They might have been in the water for five minutes,
or they might have capsized and been in the water
for more than 20 to half an hour,
and that's when you start getting worried.
If it is anybody in the water, we go to them first.
Are they conscious, are they unconscious,
are they drowning, potentially?
It was my first person in the water that I was going to,
and I wanted to get out quickly, because I know how vital it is.
When we get there, can you get a position, as soon as?
When you have to rush, I have to take a deep breather,
because if I'm in a panicky nervous situation, I'll shake,
my hands will shake, and that's when I won't do things properly.
A person in the water is the highest-priority call out,
but the crew have a few moments to collect their thoughts,
as their inshore D class lifeboat is prepared for launching.
It's probably only about three, four minutes,
but standing around waiting, it was, it did feel...
Because somebody was in the water,
and that's the first thing you think of, "Come on, I need to get out."
It was directly a mile off the lifeboat station,
so we knew roughly where it was.
It was a straight get over there and take them out.
The waves were slightly higher than what they were close inland,
which was the worrying part, because it was getting choppier.
After a two-minute sprint, the crew locate the two kayakers.
Can you advise if any medical assistance, over.
A kayak had capsized and one of them had managed to get back on
and the other one couldn't get back on, and every time he was trying,
it would capsize again.
The wind was blowing the kayak further out to sea
and it was an open sea.
I'll put this down, so you can use it as a step.
After nearly 20 minutes in the water,
the casualty is visibly exhausted.
-One foot in that.
I can't get my leg up there.
-There we go.
If he would have been swept further out to sea,
I would say another ten minutes,
and he probably wouldn't have the energy to swim.
He wouldn't probably have the energy,
if he would have caught up with the kayak,
he wouldn't have had the energy to hold on.
I just couldn't pull myself up in there.
OK, what we're going to do, we're going to get you in...
When your body gets cold, it kind of goes into shutdown,
and the slightest or the smallest things are really hard,
as in to get into the kayak, or to even think
about how to get into the kayak in the first place.
Because of the power of the wind,
they would have been separated again.
-You were drifting back really quickly.
We asked him if he was OK and he said, "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine,"
you know, but he was shaking.
You're going to get wet.
Oh, we're past that.
Are you OK, you look very cold?
Get right into that pod, it'll shade you a little bit.
He hadn't even realised how cold he was.
I don't think they realised at all how much danger they were in
until they probably... on the route back where we said,
"You know, you were very lucky."
Where they are actually said, "Yeah, I think we've realised that now."
You get a good feeling knowing that that person's able to go home
and carry on the rest of their life as normal.
That was a nice half an hour shout.
Yep. I like shouts like that.
-Do you, that are quick?
-The dream team!
It was down to pure luck of somebody
actually seeing them on the headland.
It's that split second between being in a safe zone
and being in the danger zone,
which is the wind and the tides taking them further out.
Get in, Robert.
I would say if the lifeboat hadn't have been there
in the quick response that it was, then he would have died.
Back at Tower Station in London,
they don't just deal with the highest number of people
in the water, the river they guard is also one of
the most dangerous stretches in the UK.
The Thames is littered with obstacles
from boats, barges and bridges, to all manner of flotsam and jetsam,
and the rubbish catchers -
floating metal cages designed to clean it up.
People think of it as a river running through a city.
They don't realise that it's fast-flowing.
There are all sorts of things in this river that can catch you out.
And when those oblivious to the dangers come into contact
with the river - intentionally or not -
it's the Tower crew who are paged to pick up the pieces.
The initial information we got for this call was a person in the water,
in the area of HMS Belfast,
and it was as simple and as vague as that.
At a top speed of over 40 knots,
they're less than three minutes away.
Time is very, very much not on our side,
because people rarely survive in the water more than 10 or 12 minutes,
and they've gone.
You've got the currents of the tide carrying you into places
that you have no control over, into moorings, other vessels.
Arriving on scene, there's no sign of anybody in the river,
but up ahead, a water bus has stopped midstream,
their lights trained on one of the river's rubbish catchers.
A rubbish catcher is a floating device.
So if you imagined a closed C,
the back of the C is actually made of a mesh,
so it allows water to go through, but any debris,
rubbish actually gets trapped against the grill.
As they near the catcher, a figure comes into view.
OK, got visual, my side.
On first sight of the casualty, he is not in a good position.
He was holding on for grim death
to the chain that connects the rubbish catcher to the mooring buoy.
Because of his location, if he lost his grip,
the only place he's going to go is inside the rubbish catcher, and
the chances of him surviving that are very, very slim.
The man jumped into the river to help someone
he thought was drowning.
Now he has ended up just inches from disaster.
He's clinging on to the chain with one hand,
with his other he's gripping something in the water below.
Myself and Stuart leant over the side
and encouraged him to give us his hand.
He was quite nervous to do that because he was,
at that point he was still holding on to something physically strong.
He was very distressed and kept repeating about this other person,
"I've tried to save him, I've got this other person."
It was very clear he didn't have a person.
The figure the man thought he was rescuing turned out to be a large
floating piece of wood.
He was significantly distressed that there was still someone else there.
We got one hand, one of his hands with big Stu.
He's got hands like a JCB digger,
and I think once we had one of Stu's hands on him,
we were never going to let him go.
I'll alert the coastguard we have contact with the individual.
You've got the weight of the person, plus all his wet clothing,
so he's wet, heavy, slippery...
So you've got a bit of a challenge to get him into the boat.
INAUDIBLE RADIO MESSAGES
Thank God for jeans with belt loops, I would say.
They're a very useful purchase.
-They've got one casualty from the water.
To hold on to that chain,
with that flow of water pushing on you,
the fact that it's very cold water as well,
and for the length of time that he's been in the water and also holding
onto this lump of wood, that takes quite a Herculean effort.
He was a foreign gentlemen, I believe he was Italian.
He was very confused and I think that may be several things.
One, cold water immersion had confused him
and also my Italian's quite poor.
After an onboard assessment by the crew,
the confused but now secure casualty is taken to a nearby pier to be
transferred to an ambulance.
Another life saved by the Tower crew could easily have been another lost
to the Thames.
I've had a couple of shouts for rubbish catchers before,
and both were for body recovery.
He was very lucky, yeah.
He should have done the lottery, I think, yeah.
From Britain's busiest inland waterway to the world's busiest
offshore shipping lane.
Dover's position, commanding the straits between England and France,
means it has been a commercial and naval centre for millennia.
It became an important military hub for the Romans
after their invasion of Britain.
1,000 years later, Dover was appointed
one of the Cinque Ports of Kent and Sussex,
with a commitment to the Crown to provide ships and sailors
in defence of the realm.
These days, it's invaded by over 12 million passengers
and 2.5 million lorries every year.
For the Dover crew, that makes it one of the most challenging
environments around our shores to work in,
and means even the most routine call-out can lead to lives
being put in the path of danger.
So, we're just departing Dover, the Port of Dover's inner harbour,
heading out the western entrance.
Quite a scary place.
Obviously Dover is the gateway to Europe, as it's called.
Some 120 sailings a day, ships,
and some 450 ships a day go through the lanes.
It's a bit of an unusual situation,
you don't get this anywhere else in the UK,
and most lifeboats don't see big ships like this, like we do.
So it's very challenging.
Dover port is probably like a service station on the M25.
If you imagine trying to cross the M25 at rush-hour traffic,
that is kind of the scenario that we go through off the Port of Dover.
For safety, vessels heading through the Channel have to use different
lanes - predetermined zones
depending on the direction of travel.
Although it reduces the risk of collision, it can't eliminate it.
It is like dodgems, it is quite scary.
You're a little boat and suddenly a container ship's really close to you
and it's coming past and you think, "Wow, that is massive."
And, of course, because they take a long, long, long time to stop,
so if anyone's in their way,
they can't just stop.
It's in the summer months,
when the school holidays are in full swing and the ferries crammed to
capacity, that the shipping lanes are at their busiest.
An August day, the Dover crew are called out.
A boat and one of her crew are in trouble.
We had a yacht with engine failure,
and a person that was seasick on board.
Seasickness can be a real terrible illness.
If you are vomiting, you're losing your fluid as well.
The severe seasickness can cause muscle cramps and things like that.
But it's not the sea sickness that's the crew's biggest worry.
The yacht has broken down 12 miles out,
in the middle of the shipping lanes.
With no power, they're a sitting duck.
If you can't move in the shipping lane,
you're sitting there wallowing.
You've also got some very big container ships and other vessels
coming down the lanes where they were.
There were lots of ships' targets out there on the radar,
seeing little objects that may not appear on radar,
and obviously the site of eye from a bridge of a large ship,
it's not very easy to see them.
An hour after the alarm was raised, the crew find the stricken yacht.
On board are Chris and Sue.
-You're the one feeling a little bit sick, yeah?
-My name is Richard.
-Nice to meet you.
I'm just going to check you over a little bit, OK?
She was getting quite frightened because they'd been out there
for some time. The seasickness was making her a bit scared.
You're absolutely fine now.
Chris and Sue have been married for 12 years.
They're on the last leg of a two-week sailing trip to Holland.
So you had a good time out, then?
You cut the air with a knife, if you could describe it for the better.
Sue wasn't talking to me. You could see that she had lost
all the enjoyment of the last fortnight in about ten minutes.
You're perfectly all right now.
I was more frustrated and angry at what's going on,
because I'm thinking,
"Why did it happen now after we've just done 300, 400 miles
"and not a problem with the engine at all?"
And it happened to be in the busiest part of the straits.
It was definitely in the back of my mind that we were entering the
shipping lanes, we had no
real means of power
and it wouldn't take much for a ship
to hit us.
What they're going to do, they're going to tow down.
I believe, they're waiting for this MSC to go past.
And then we're going to take you astern of them
and get you into Dover.
Once they've picked their moment,
the crew need to haul the yacht through 12 miles
of heaving shipping lanes all the way back to Dover.
The main thing is to make sure the tow line is on and secured.
As a lifeboat, we're capable of about 25 knots.
Towing small yachts, we can only get about six knots.
So that's quite slow for us.
Obviously, the lifeboat then starts to wallow a bit, pitch and roll.
Not a comfortable experience by far.
You watch the hours go past and keep a good lookout.
A few games of I Spy.
I wanted to kiss the ground when I got back!
It was lovely.
They saved my boat on the day and basically saved my marriage
because Sue wouldn't have been doing anything I like doing now.
You'll always feel a sense of awe, doesn't matter what it is.
It could be anything, because you've been out and achieved something.
We're volunteers, we sometimes have to put our lives,
not so much on the line in general,
but we have to go out of our way to help someone.
So you always get that feel-good factor, no matter what the job is.
Just ten miles along the coast from Dover,
Walmer's first lifeboat station was established in 1856.
77 years ago, the Walmer lifeboat
took part in perhaps the largest and most famous
seaborne rescue in history.
Walmer was one of 19 lifeboats from stations along the south and east
coasts of England that joined a flotilla of little ships heading to
France. They were to play a crucial role in Operation Dynamo,
the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force
from Dunkirk in 1940,
in the face of the advancing German army.
While most of the lifeboats were crewed by naval personnel,
two from Margate in Ramsgate
were manned by the lifeboat crews themselves.
In all, 338,000 men were rescued,
of which over a third were evacuated by Dunkirk's Little Ships.
After the war, Walmer was, for a while, one of the busiest
lifeboat stations in the country.
These days, the Walmer crew get called out up to 30 times a year
and guard a patch that includes
one half of a very well-known local landmark.
The famous, well, White Cliffs of Dover,
the cliffs start at Kingsdown,
going round to Dover.
Everyone would know the White Cliffs of Dover.
So, obviously, we've got the issues of rock falls,
people being cut off by the tide.
Within our area, we do have quite large shingle banks
and then bouldered areas and then chalky white cliffs.
So there's quite a varied coastline.
We're not an easy station to launch and recover.
Some stations are afloat and can be in the water within seconds.
Our time, we're normally within the water well within ten minutes.
A sunny April day in Walmer.
All the lifeboat crew are at the station.
We actually had our annual car wash,
so it's turned into quite a big event.
We wash in the region of sort of 100 to 120 cars
in front of the lifeboat station.
The cars must take a back-seat when lives are in danger.
We have duty DLAs.
Obviously, their pagers should go before ours.
But they all went off together, which to us means,
it is what we call immediate launch.
For someone it is life and death.
As the crew launch,
all they know is that the coastguard has called them out to someone in
the sea at Kingsdown, at the northern edge of the White Cliffs.
As soon as we heard it was a person in the water,
it's a serious shout because we know
that every second that passes in the water,
is a second where they're clinging on to their life and we need to
be there immediately.
It's less than two miles away,
but even a top speed of 35 knots may not be fast enough.
Conditions for a person in the water can change in a matter of seconds.
From being non-hypothermic to hypothermic and then obviously into
unconsciousness and ultimate drowning.
The water temperature at that time of year is actually quite cold.
The sea isn't at its warmest until September, October time
in this area. In April time, it's below 12 degrees.
So whilst the sun may be out,
the water temperature is certainly not warm.
Five minutes after launching, the crew arrive on the scene.
There's no sign of anyone in the water,
but there is a lone kayaker who seems in distress.
It became clear that he was actually in the water and he'd only just
recovered himself onto the kayak seconds before we arrived on scene.
The kayaker was quite panicky, but at the same time quite quiet.
He was evidently very, very cold and wet.
He did have a dry suit on, but unfortunately that wasn't zipped up.
His entire body had been submerged in water.
The casualty was quite confused
and didn't know exactly at that point what had happened.
He wasn't sure whether he went under the water,
whether he swallowed any water.
31-year-old William capsized while out fishing.
He's already suffering serious side effects from exposure to the cold.
There's a moment where you don't really feel the cold any more.
I think that was the worrying moment.
I was just sitting there, feeling quite peaceful,
slightly warm, actually, and tired.
I just wanted to close my eyes.
Confusion is definitely a sign of hypothermia.
He was shivering quite dramatically at that point.
He was borderline very, very cold, or hypothermic.
I was thinking
about everybody I know,
especially about Vivian,
my girlfriend, who got me the kayak for my birthday.
I thought, "Well, God, she is going to be distraught to know
"she got me the ticket to heaven."
The crew need to get William back to shore and warmed up
as fast as possible.
But as they assess him, he reveals another injury.
When we got him onboard,
we found out he had a fishing hook stuck in his hand
and the line was still attached to the fishing rod.
It went straight in,
pretty through the palm of my hand and
was kind of holding me towards the kayak.
Surprisingly, it wasn't causing him a lot of pain,
unless he actually looked at it.
It wasn't bleeding heavily,
so at that point it was really about taking his focus away from the hook.
If we hadn't managed to get to the casualty,
then he would have struggled to get ashore,
particularly with a hook in his hand.
We were one of his only hopes, really.
Out of the water and out of danger,
William is already beginning to recover.
En route back to the lifeboat station,
the casualty regained a little bit more conversation with us
and it became clear there was a second person
that should have been on board the kayak
that wasn't there when we recovered the kayak or the kayaker.
We were quite alarmed to hear that.
William had been out with a friend, also called Will, on his kayak.
After they capsized, the current pulled his friend away.
They decided his best chance was to swim for the shore,
several hundred metres away.
Being there sitting on the kayak and seeing my friend struggle in the
water for a good 45 minutes was extremely worrisome.
I felt totally useless.
I was extremely worried for him.
At one moment, he stopped swimming.
At that moment, I thought my friend lost consciousness.
Maybe five minutes from the moment he stopped moving,
he stood up on the beach.
My concern was then he couldn't necessarily
get to a point of safety.
The coast line is quite rocky in that area
and it's not easy to walk across.
Lee must now decide if the priority is the casualty they have on board
or the missing friend, who may be in even greater danger.
I took the decision as helmsman to recover that casualty on board to
our lifeboat station before we then considered the second casualty.
As they hand William into the care of the shore crew,
there's still no word about his missing friend.
The crew launch again immediately.
But it's now been at least an hour since he fell into the water.
A potential missing person is one of the worst-case scenarios for us.
If someone hasn't got eyes on that casualty,
they may well have slipped under the water.
In which case, they're going to drown.
In my mind, I told myself, "Will is OK, Will is OK."
As the crew race back towards the search area,
an urgent update comes in.
We got to around Kingsdown area,
we got a call on the radio from the coastguard saying that the second
casualty had made it back to St Margaret's beach and called 999.
One of the best piece of news they told me is that they found him and
that he was fine and that a car was going to pick him up.
I felt extremely relieved.
Back at base, the crew can at last
return to washing the cars of Walmer.
A very eventful car wash.
And once obviously finished and packed up,
we proceeded to the pub to have a sociable drink.
After his chilling experience in the Walmer waters,
William's hand has healed, but he hasn't been back to sea yet.
I've still got a good memory for my next kayaking,
my little fish hook kayak accident,
which will remind me to be prepared next time, I suppose.
And despite being marooned in the shipping lanes off Dover...
..Chris still loves to go sailing
and Sue still joins in.
I never thought she'd get on a boat again, let alone a sailboat,
let alone on a boat with me.
We've just come back from Boulogne from a trip.
Sue herself, I think she's got more confidence in the boat
and obviously the support of the lifeboat and bits and pieces.
If things are going wrong, they're there to help you.
I'd never had anything similar to that.
You don't have any experience to fall back on.
We just started screaming for help.