He­li­copter res­cue

If you’re in a small boat and have to have a ca­su­alty lifted off by he­li­copter, what should you ex­pect? David Hard­ing finds out

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

What to do, step-by-step

Many of us have seen a ca­su­alty be­ing air­lifted from a yacht, ei­ther in a gen­uine emer­gency or as an ex­er­cise. Some of us have been in­volved in pre-ar­ranged ex­er­cises too, or called up by HM coast­guard out of the blue – or the grey – and asked to take part in an ex­er­cise as we were sail­ing along mind­ing our own busi­ness. If we agreed, we would end our day much the wiser about what to do should it ever hap­pen for real.

In this fea­ture we’re go­ing to con­cen­trate prin­ci­pally on what might hap­pen if some­one needs to be lifted off a small mo­tor­boat. Although mo­tor­boats don’t have the same heavy and/or fast-mov­ing bits of rig or rig­ging to bang you on the head, which ac­count for a high pro­por­tion of the in­juries sus­tained on sail­ing yachts, a fair amount of dis­tress calls lead­ing to a he­li­copter res­cue come from mo­tor­boats.

Small mo­tor­boats present their own par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges to the he­li­copter crew. That’s why it was good to have an op­por­tu­nity to see what hap­pened when they joined forces with Will King and the Har­bour Sea School for an ex­er­cise in Poole Bay. Will was skip­per­ing a Cap Ca­ma­rat 755, crewed by Will Kennedy, and this was a new ex­pe­ri­ence for both of them.

Start with the ba­sics

To make sense of the rea­son­ing be­hind the var­i­ous meth­ods used by the HM Coast­guard search and res­cue crews, it helps to un­der­stand a few fun­da­men­tal facts and prin­ci­ples. n There is no such thing as a ‘stan­dard’ res­cue tech­nique for any given sit­u­a­tion. The meth­ods shown here are ex­am­ples of what might hap­pen. All can be var­ied. The he­li­copter crew will as­sess each sit­u­a­tion be­fore mak­ing judge­ments and is­su­ing in­struc­tions to the boat ac­cord­ingly. n In­struc­tions will be is­sued by VHF ra­dio where pos­si­ble. If you don’t have a VHF on board, it will come down to hand sig­nals and al­ter­na­tive (po­ten­tially less ef­fi­cient) res­cue tech­niques might have to be used. n He­li­copters pre­fer to be mov­ing for­ward rather than hov­er­ing. Move­ment into the wind cre­ates greater air-speed through the ro­tors, gen­er­at­ing more lift so less power is needed and also mov­ing the down­draught be­hind the he­li­copter. n He­li­copters cre­ate a pow­er­ful down­draught (or down­wash). If they’re hov­er­ing when there’s lit­tle or no wind, the down­draught will be al­most di­rectly un­der­neath the ro­tors and there­fore very close to the boat. It will tend to blow the boat around, of­ten un­pre­dictably, mak­ing life much harder for the pi­lot and winch­man as well as the boat’s crew. The spray it also throws up adds to the dis­com­fort. It’s es­sen­tial to re­move any loose items such as cush­ions, cloth­ing and caps be­fore the he­li­copter ap­proaches in or­der to stop them be­ing blown around, ad­ding to the gen­eral con­fu­sion and pre­sent­ing a po­ten­tial dan­ger to the he­li­copter’s en­gines. n He­li­copters are noisy beasts. When you’re im­me­di­ately un­der­neath, or even a lit­tle way to one side, you won’t be able to hear any­thing over its noise. VHF com­mu­ni­ca­tion will be im­pos­si­ble, as might talk­ing to (or shout­ing at) your crew. A brief­ing over the ra­dio (if you have one) will take place be­fore the he­li­copter closes in, and cru­cial hand-sig­nals will be ex­plained. n The pi­lot and the winch op­er­a­tor are on the star­board side of the he­li­copter, so they need to be on the boat’s port side to see what’s hap­pen­ing. The pi­lot might still lose vis­i­bil­ity of the boat – es­pe­cially a small boat – whereas the the winch op­er­a­tor will main­tain vis­ual con­tact at all times. n If cir­cum­stances al­low, the winch­man will prob­a­bly be low­ered straight on to the boat to save time. In some sit­u­a­tions – when there’s a lot of move­ment, for ex­am­ple – a hi-line will be low­ered first. This is a weighted line that the boat’s crew pulls aboard to help guide and steady the winch­man or any equip­ment that comes down from the he­li­copter. Rule No1 with the hi-line is that it should never be made fast to the boat! n On ex­er­cises like this, par­tic­u­larly one in­volv­ing a small boat in choppy con­di­tions, the winch­man might not land on board. He would be risk­ing in­jury – not a good idea if a gen­uine dis­tress call is re­ceived im­me­di­ately after the ex­er­cise, as it was on this oc­ca­sion. As the he­li­copter was re­turn­ing to base at Lee-on-Solent it was called back to an emer­gency in Poole Bay, where we had been on ex­er­cise.

The pi­lot and the winch op­er­a­tor are on the star­board side of the he­li­copter

The pow­er­ful down­draught (or down­wash) throws up a lot of spray

Ap­proach­ing from the port side al­lows the he­li­copter to main­tain vis­ual con­tact

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