Exmouth RNLI volunteers sprang into action following a disjointed call from a VHF radio to the Coastguard from a man aboard a 6.5m yacht anchored off Topsham in the river Exe.

The inshore lifeboat George Bearman II was launched at 6.15pm on Sunday, 12 February to assist the sailor.

The boat owner had swam out approximately 50m in the dark and very cold conditions as he was concerned for the safety of his vessel.

Once located, crew volunteers recovered the casualty to Topsham Quay to waiting paramedics, ambulance and Exmouth Coastguard team. The yacht was secured at Topsham before volunteers returned to the station in very cold and wet conditions at 8pm.

Peter Williams, an RNLI Community Safety Officer had given a talk about cold water shock recently to the community to prevent people taking unnecessary risks in the water.

He said: ‘The decision to swim out to a boat in the dark and at this time of year is at best unwise and at worst extremely foolhardy.

‘The water temperature is around 10c – cold water shock and hypothermia are very real dangers. Cold water shock quickly numbs the senses, makes breathing difficult and increases heart rate significantly. Water removes heat from the body 25 times faster than direct contact with air.

‘At 10c a person in the water without correct clothing and suitable personal flotation assistance will almost certainly find difficulty in swimming, staying afloat and will likely be unconscious within an hour. This gentlemen is very lucky he managed to reach his vessel and summon assistance from the RNLI.’

The incident marked the second call out of the day for George Bearman II, which first launched at 1.04pm following calls to the Coastguard concerning two men aboard an 8m leisure boat aground on a sand bank at the entrance to the river Exe.

The casualties were on their way back from Dartmouth, into the river on a falling tide when they found themselves in difficulty. Volunteers reached them within five minutes and discovered the casualties were happy to wait for the rising tide. One crew volunteer went on board to give local advice and check their VHF radio was tuned in correctly.