Partygoers rescued by the RNLI without them being aware of the danger they were in

Image above: RNLI Chiswick lifeboat alongside party boat; photograph RNLI Chiswick

Party boat the Royalty lost propulsion and needed a tow

The Chiswick RNLI crew rescued fifty people on a party boat earlier this month, without the partygoers even realising they were in danger.

The crew were having a meeting at Broomhouse Pier, just downstream from Putney Bridge when Thames Commander Mark Turrell noticed a large passenger vessel manoeuvring strangely. They then received a call asking for immediate assistance.

The captain of the ailing vessel told them he had lost propulsion, and the 110 ton boat was being swept by the tide towards a group of houseboats. He was still able to steer it, so the RNLI crew quickly set up a tow line alongside the Royalty, to help him control the boat.

They then towed the Royalty for a mile to Putney Pier, its original destination, but this was not without its challenges.

At 110 tons and 100 feet long, Commander Turrell was apprehensive about how the alongside tow would work.

“We were confident that our lifeboat would be up to the job, but relieved that the 900 horsepower E-Class was more than capable of making way against the tide with such a large vessel,” he said.

The RNLI E-Class lifeboats, unique to the Thames, have towed larger vessels before but this was a different challenge as there were more than 50 partygoers on board.  They chose not to tell them there was a rescue going on until they were successfully docked.

Image above: Manouevring underneath Putney Bridge; photograph RNLI Chiswick

A tight squeeze underneath Putney Bridge

Apart from the weight and size of the boat they were towing and not wanting to panic those on board, the RNLI crew had the additional problem of trying to manoeuvre both boats under Putney Bridge before they could dock.

In normal circumstances the vessel full of partygoers would have gone through the centre of the arch but this would have put the lifeboat under the lowest part of the arch. Commander Turrell 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.

After successfully negotiating the bridge, they decided the normal method of allowing the outgoing tide to ease the vessel onto the pier could result in a sudden jolt, risking injuries onboard, so instead they used the E-class’s twin water jets to give them more precise control as they docked.

Image above: RNLI Chiswick lifeboat alongside party boat; photograph RNLI Chiswick

“Nobody noticed an extra blue light in the disco”

Commander Mark Turrell 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.”

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.

Chiswick lifeboat station manager Wayne Bellamy commented:

“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.