Emergency Proceedures

St Ayle’s skiffs are very stable and safe boats. By adopting a sensible approach we can minimise the risks of emergency situations, but we cannot eliminate them.  Please refer to our Health and Safety procedures to ensure that risks are minimised and the requirement for emergency action avoided [link].

The following highlights emergencies that might occur and the general approach that should be taken, although circumstances may require different approaches. In all situations remain calm and use your knowledge, judgement, and skill to cope with the situation.

Injury at sea:  Minor injuries; Cox to instruct 2 people to row; one attends to injured person; make for shore.  For a major injury alert emergency services. (999 for onshore attention, or PAN/MAYDAY via VHF for the coastguard).

Man overboard: Cox to instruct one person to stow their oar and keep visual contact at all times with person overboard; they should point at them continually to avoid distraction. Remaining crew to row under the instruction of the Cox to effect a recovery.  Deploy throw line if necessary.  Be careful not to unbalance the boat when bringing someone on-board.

Taking water: Cox to instruct one or two persons to stow oars and bail.  The remaining crew to row under the instruction of the Cox to shore.  Alert emergency services with PAN PAN or MAYDAY if severe.

Severe weather conditions: Weather can change very quickly so be prepared to alter plans; if unable to make way deploy anchor and contact coastguard for forecast; if likely to subside hold to, if likely to deteriorate make for safety; deploy drogue if large following sea; alert emergency services with PAN or MAYDAY if severe.

Swamping in deep water: This should be unlikely, as the boats shouldn’t be out in the kind of conditions where this is a risk.  However, if swamped; check all PDFs are being worn and correctly fitted; alert emergency services with MAYDAY; stay near the boat but not so near that you may be clouted with it/an oar; the chances of  recovering the boat are small so don’t try; you need to conserve body heat and energy.

Swamping/capsize in shallow water: This is probably the most likely incident to occur.  If coming in with a following sea, there is the risk of broaching in breaking waves.  If this happens it will happen very quickly, but you should be in fairly shallow water.  If this occurs get clear of the boat initially; check all crew are uninjured; if all OK and it is safe to do so turn boat bow into the waves and bring in whilst bailing; recover kit. Usually if this happens there will be an onshore wind and so the boat will come into shore by itself which may be a safer option to avoid being near/handling the heavy boat in rough sea.

Capsize in deep water:  This is very unlikely but; check crew are OK; make sure nobody is trapped under boat; alert emergency services with MAYDAY; stay near the boat but not so near that you may be clouted with it/an oar; you need to conserve body heat and energy so adopt Survival Techniques.

Survival Techniques:


  • If you do end up in the water float, scull or tread water in a relaxed manner and make sure your lifejacket is secure and inflated. 
  • It is essential to conserve body heat and energy so any unnecessary activity is dangerous. Only swim when absolutely necessary as even exceptional swimmers can be overcome by shock and cold within very short distances.
  • Keep together and try to stay with the boat. But be aware of oars etc. being tossed about by the sea.
  • The ‘Huddle’ position is useful for small groups wearing lifejackets as it reduces loss of body heat ; press the sides of your chests together; press lower bodies together; put arms around each other’s backs at waist level.
  • Keep talking – reassure and encourage each other.
  • Keep calm.

Hypothermia:  in cold water, heat loss from the body is hugely increased and core body temperature can quickly drop. Water temperature in the North Sea ranges from about 6C in Winter to 14C in summer. In that range of temperature a person immersed could be expected to be unconscious in as little as 30 minutes, with an expected survival time as little as an hour. Even if not immersed, it is important to be alert to the signs of hypothermia.

Signs that a person is nearing a hypothermic state include shivering, poor coordination, mental sluggishness, slurred speech, numbness and cramp. As hypothermia progresses, shivering ceases, coordination is severely impaired, and confusion is coupled with incoherence and irrationality. Severely hypothermic people have icy skin. Extreme lethargy merges with unconsciousness and they might appear dead.

Hypothermia is a medical emergency.  If suspected, professional medical help must be sought immediately. First aid goals are:

  • preventing further heat loss,
  • re-warming the victim,
  • getting professional medical help as quickly as possible.