Coastguard officer communicates with SOS boat by turning lights on and off

A coastguard officer helped save a stricken vessel last week by switching the lights on and off in a yacht club. Steve Mann was at Hayling Island Sailing Club with friends on 19 October when he received a page that there was a boat aground. He asked to use the club’s control tower to get a better view, and saw what he thought was an SOS message flashed by torchlight. To acknowledge the signal he turned the lights on and off, and when he saw it again, played it back to the vessel to let him know he understood.

‘I was very surprised when I saw the SOS,’ Steve told PBO. ‘With DSC VHF radio, EPIRBs and flares, Morse is a thing of the past. You don’t tend to see it these days, but most of us are familiar with the SOS.’

Solent Coastguard launched Hayling Island lifeboat, which Steve guided to the scene from the control tower. There, the crew found a 28ft fishing boat aground and taking on water. The owner had been stuck for several hours, waiting until it was dark enough to use a flashlight. He had no VHF or flares, having recently transferred his safety equipment to a new boat. He was taken ashore by the lifeboat, which also towed his boat to Sparks Marina.

‘This man was caught out on the one occasion he went to sea with absolutely no safety equipment,’ said Steve. ‘Ideally he should have had a VHF, flares – anything to attact attention. However, in the circumstances, he did the best he could.’