When a speedboat leaving Nolton Haven Bay suffered engine issues in large swell, the response was a true display of RNLI teamwork across lifeboat crews and lifeguards working together as one crew.

Nolton Haven Lifeguards alongside crews from Little Haven and St Davids RNLI worked together in challenging conditions to save three casualties.

Three people arrived at Nolton Haven Beach on Saturday, July 8, 2023 with the intention of launching their speedboat, fortunately it was the first day of patrols at Nolton Haven. The lifeguards on duty advised the boat users against launching as the conditions were dangerous and were forecast to worsen throughout the day. The people proceeded to launch their boat, with some difficulty, but eventually made their way out of the bay.

Shortly after leaving the bay, Lifeguard Tom Rogers noticed that the vessel didn’t seem to be making any progress out to sea. They were roughly 50m outside of the bay. The lifeguards observed the boat and noticed they had started rowing with oars suggesting engine failure. All passengers onboard the boat then began waving in the direction of the beach.

Lifeguard Supervisor Noah Harvatt immediately contacted Milford Haven Coastguard and emphasised the situation was time critical due to the eight-foot waves that were growing larger by the minute. Fortunately, the driver of the speedboat was carrying a phone who also called 999 and ask for the assistance of the Coastguard. The Coastguard immediately tasked Little Haven’s inshore lifeboat.

Little Haven D Class pictured with the broken down speedboat  Credit: RNLI St Davids
Little Haven D Class pictured with the broken down speedboat (RNLI/St Davids)

Knowing that the lifeboat had been tasked, Senior Lifeguard Matthew Brown paddled out on a rescue board to assess the situation. Using his radio, Matthew could then act as the communicator between the passengers aboard the boat, Nolton Beach Lifeguard Unit and the Coastguard. Little Haven crew launched immediately and made their way to the scene. 

Matthew said: “The conditions were really dangerous and the paddle out to the boat was tough. The waves are always bigger than they look from the beach!”

Matthew encouraged the passengers to drop their anchor and face the boat into the conditions to try and prevent being blown further towards the cliffs. Once the lifeboat arrived, the passengers were clearly distressed as the vessel was being swept closer to the cliffs due to the strength of the large swell and strong winds despite dropping the anchor. The lifeboat crew wasted no time and set up for a tow operation. A crew member climbed aboard the speedboat with the tow rope, so they could pull vessel away from the cliffs and back to safety as soon as possible. The crew began towing the boat away and Lifeguard Matthew was free to return to shore to debrief with the Coastguard.

 By this point the surf had picked up even more due to the outgoing tide, but Matthew’s strong board handling skills and experience in big swell meant he could skilfully assess the conditions and catch a wave back to the beach on his rescue board.

The speedboat had begun to take on water and the tow was becoming more difficult for the inshore lifeboat. The coastguard requested the launch of St David’s all-weather lifeboat to assist. Once it arrived, St Davids’ Tamar the Norah Wortley took over the towing whilst the inshore lifeboat took the passengers back to shore. All three casualties were suffering with severe sea sickness due to the rough conditions.

 The casualties were brought back to safety on Broad Haven Beach as the conditions elsewhere were too dangerous and were safely handed over to the Coastguard team.

St Davids all-weather lifeboat towed the speedboat to a sheltered mooring in Gould Troop – just off Little Haven, where the crew from Little Haven’s inshore lifeboat secured the vessel until safe to recover. Both St Davids and Little Haven crews were then stood down and returned to station.

Matthew added: “I’m very relieved that our lifeguard service at Nolton Haven went live on that day. If we hadn’t been there to spot the vessel in difficulty and to call the coastguard, the end result could’ve been very different.

“It’s always a pleasure working alongside the lifeboat crews. Little Haven’s response time was impressive, the casualties are lucky the station is nearby.”

One of the casualties said:“The RNLI were tremendous during our rescue. The lifeguard from the beach paddled out through big swell very quickly to assist us and was calm and very professional throughout the rescue.

“We’re aware that the inshore lifeboat from Little Haven launched unbelievably quickly and were with us in minutes. The lifeboat crew were also very professional.

“In very tricky conditions without the quick, confident intervention of all the RNLI teams on scene, the outcome of our situation could’ve been very different.

We are enormously grateful to the whole team for their outstanding efforts in challenging circumstances. I intend on donating to the charity following the incident to show my deep appreciation for the crew’s amazing work. Thank you RNLI.”