Living the hi-line

Hi-line rescue training exercise

On the way across Poole Bay, we were buzzed by a Coastguard rescue helicopter. After trying unconvincingly to tell Alex and his friends that I had arranged a flypast for them, we realised they wanted us to call them. A large board held out of their door with ‘73‘ in large red letters was kind of a give-away! I called them on Channel 73 and was asked very calmly and politely if we would like to take part in a hi-line rescue training exercise. I was less calm in my reply, but it was a stupid question – an amazing opportunity.

We were given detailed instructions via the VHF and I had to try and communicate these to the crew with the noise of a helicopter hovering over our port quarter. They rapidly got into it, though they were slightly mystified at why we had to get a bucket from the aft locker. Basically the instructions were:

  1. Keep steering close-hauled on port keeping a constant course (so the helmsman wasn’t allowed to watch the whole thing but had to concentrate …).
  2. They would drop us a weighted line.
  3. Put the line in the bucket and take up the slack, though they did stress not to pull the line hard – it was quite clear who would come off worse in a tug of war – helicopter vs Starlight 39 …… The bucket was so that the line would flake down cleanly and not tangle.
  4. The paramedic would then be lowered.
  5. We then had to pull him on-board using the weighted line.

Once on-board he unclipped completely and the line was retrieved. I did offer him a cup of tea, but he seemed to think he ought to get back to work. Had an interesting (shouted) chat about what they would do in the event of there actually being a casualty on board and a few minutes later they dropped the main winch wire and retrieved him very smoothly and efficiently.

They followed this up with a very nice call thanking us for helping with their training – we really didn’t need any thanks as I think it taught us more than it taught them …. I think the main thing it demonstrated to me was the incredible level of professionalism of these crews – the whole thing happened very quickly and smoothly with an incredible ease. I guess it shows the value of this sort of training. For a video of part of it, see below.

For more pictures, see the hi-line rescue exercise picture gallery.

Coastguard rescue helicopter