RNLI Rescues Stricken Party Boat Near Fulham

Chiswick Lifeboat crew spotted vessel with 50 passengers in distress

Lifeboat alongside the cruiser using chart plotter. Picture: RNLI/David Clarke

An RNLI crew have rescued a stricken party boat on the Thames after one of its members spotted the vessel in distress. The operation was handled so smoothly that the disco continued on board without any of the revellers noticing what was happening.

The crew of the Chiswick Lifeboat were debriefing after a casualty care exercise at Broomhouse Pier in Fulham at 9.50pm on 7 July when Thames Commander Mark Turrell noticed the large passenger vessel Royalty manoeuvring strangely.

Moments later, a call came through on the radio asking the lifeboat for immediate assistance as the vessel had lost propulsion with 50 partygoers on board.

A prompt response was required as the party boat was being swept towards houseboats by the tide. The lifeboat crew quickly set up an alongside tow as that would allow better control. Mark was able to speak directly to the captain on the radio and his own crew on their helmet comms.

The vessel still had steerage so the lifeboat provided propulsion while the captain managed the steering. It was agreed that the lifeboat should tow the vessel a mile to Putney Pier, its original destination. The lifeboat was attached to the starboard side of the Royalty so crew-member Tim Hughes boarded Royalty to provide eyes from the port side.

The RNLI E-Class lifeboats, unique to the Thames, have towed larger vessels before but the crew say this was a different challenge because of the number of people on board. At 110 tons and 100 feet long Mark was apprehensive about how the alongside tow would work. He reported that ‘We were confident that our lifeboat would be up to the job but relieved that the 900 horse power E-Class was more than capable of making way against the tide with such a large vessel.’

The next challenge was negotiating the arches of Putney Bridge. Normally the Royalty would proceed in the centre of the arch but this would put the lifeboat under the lowest part of the arch. Mark asked the captain to go as far to the south of the centreline as he judged was safe and asked his crew to lower the lifeboat’s mast and aerials.

Negotiating the arch of Putney BridgeNegotiating the arch of Putney Bridge. Picture: RNLI/David Clarke

After successfully negotiating the bridge, Mark decided that the normal method of allowing the outgoing tide to ease the Royalty onto the pier could result in a sudden jolt, risking injuries onboard. Using the precise control allowed by the E-class’s twin water jets, Mark was able to gently bring the Royalty alongside. Up to this point the dancing partygoers were unaware that their river trip ended with propulsion provided by another vessel. Mark said, ‘It was a challenging rescue but went smoothly, none of the partygoers noticed that there was an extra blue light in the disco!’

Mark added, ‘The situation could have had a very different outcome, it was satisfying to confirm that the capability of the E-Class and the extensive training of our crew, Adam Cairns, Tim Hallac and Tim Hughes, allowed us to carry out a seamless rescue for over 50 people.’

Chiswick lifeboat station manager Wayne Bellamy commented, ‘The RNLI search and rescue service on the tidal Thames has its roots in the campaign of the families who lost loved ones in the Marchioness disaster when 51 people drowned. The choice of lifeboats and location of lifeboat stations was established to deal with a similar incident. We daily attend all sorts of incidents but always have in mind that we may need to deal with a large passenger vessel with many people on board. It is gratifying that all our preparations have paid off in this rescue.’

Chiswick RNLI lifeboat station is the second busiest in the UK and Ireland. Since The RNLI search and rescue service on the Thames started in 2002, Chiswick Lifeboat has attended over 4,000 incidents and rescued over 1,750 people. The RNLI is entirely funded by public donations.

For information on how to stay safe on or near water or find out more about their work, visit Chiswick RNLI’s website.

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July 23, 2023