At 1430 the duty watchkeepers observed a yellow inflatable boat emerging from the river at high speed, with only one person visible. The boat was lost from view as it was obscured by a large tree. When it did not reappear as expected, a close examination of the area near the Castle Ledge buoy revealed the helmsman in the water with the boat now circling close by.
At 1435, after observing a vain attempt by the person in the water to reach the boat, the watchkeepers alerted Brixham Coastguard to the situation. Brixham duly requested the newly operational Dartmouth Inshore Lifeboat to launch
Meantime, NCI Froward Point informed Brixham Coastguard that a yacht was heading towards the river mouth some half mile from the casualty. An attempt to contact the yacht by VHF radio was unsuccessful, and at 1440 the watchkeepers informed the Coastguard that another vessel, a local fishing boat, was approximately one mile off, also heading for the River Dart. Radio contact was then made, and with instructions from the watchkeepers relayed to the fishing vessel by the Coastguard, the casualty was successfully recovered at 1451.
Once aboard, the casualty, although clearly hypothermic, insisted on being reunited with his boat. Both vessels proceeded into the harbour in close company and were met by the Dartmouth ILB. The casualty was then taken to hospital and treated for the effects of hypothermia, neck, and leg injuries.
The helmsman was a 19 year old male. He was driving a modified “Zapcat”, an inflatable boat designed for racing in surf, fitted with a 90hp outboard and capable of speeds in excess of 50knots. The boat was travelling “at 45 knots” when it “struck an object in the water”, and the helmsman was thrown out of the vessel. The force of hitting the water caused him to “black out”, and also ripped his self inflating lifejacket off. Later a representative from Dartmouth RNLI said he was certain that but for the prompt actions of the duty watchkeepers this accident would have been fatal.