Catamaran Rescue Story


Taken from a Maritime Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) report

A catamaran was being sailed by her new owners who had taken delivery from Portsmouth. The skipper and three crew were experienced and were wearing suitable clothing for a blustery April evening. The boat was equipped with VHF radio and a good selection of emergency equipment, although no EPIRB was carried.

It was getting dark, and with the wind blowing 20 to 25 knots from SSW, the crew were sailing under a double-reefed mainsail and reefed headsail. They tacked on to starboard and soon afterwards an unusual wave pattern hit the weather hull, reported to be travelling against the direction of the wind and swell. It lifted the hull so far that the boat lost stability and capsized.

The catamaran inverted almost immediately, leaving the crew to find safety on the upturned hulls. Because the capsize had happened so quickly, there had been no time to retrieve the ‘grab-bag’ containing flares and other equipment. The VHF was now out of action, as well as being inaccessible, and the mobile telephones were down below.

Skipper and crew had no option but to huddle together for warmth, and hope for a rescue. Luckily, they were less than a mile offshore from Stansore Point in the Solent, but it was now completely dark.

It was not until about 0700 the following day, as it grew light, that their distress signals (raised and lowered arms) were spotted from the shore and the alarm was raised. All four were taken off by the inshore lifeboat, and taken to hospital suffering from mild hypothermia. Fortunately, all made complete recoveries.

The Lessons

1. The importance of correct clothing for the conditions cannot be over emphasised. All four members of the crew were wearing thermal underclothing, midlayer garments, as well as heavy weather jackets and high trousers. They were also wearing lifejackets and harnesses. Despite low sea and air temperatures, all four survived eleven hours on the upturned hulls relatively unscathed.

2. Locate the grab-bag somewhere so that it can be reached if the boat becomes inverted. This is obviously particularly important with a multi-hull, which, once inverted, will stay inverted.

3. An EPIRB mounted in the cockpit would have raised the alarm within minutes of the capsize, and would have spared the crew a long, cold and extremely uncertain night.

4. The skipper told the MAIB that he was grateful that they had all eaten a good meal before departure, and had stayed away from alcohol. He also highlighted the importance of keeping morale high and “believing in the rescue”.