RNLI blames 'tricky' weather for SW lifeboat launch rise

St Helier's Tamar-class lifeboat In the Channel Island of Jersey, the St Helier lifeboat was launched 33 times

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"Tricky" weather has led to an increase in the number of lifeboat launches in south west England this summer, according to the RNLI.

Between 1 June and 31 August, lifeboat crews had 653 emergency call outs - 26 more than the same period last year.

Although the rise was slight, it bucked the national trend which saw a 2% fall in launches.

The charity said the unseasonable weather resulted in some extremely difficult rescues for its crews.

The RNLI's south-west region includes Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Somerset and the Channel Islands.

Analysis

It has been impossible to ignore the unsettled weather this summer which has been the second wettest on record in the UK.

The South West often bores the brunt of the weather with the jet stream, a narrow band of fast flowing westerly winds high in the atmosphere, sending low pressure systems in our direction.

June was a particularly wet month for the region; the rainfall was 242% above average. There was a very wet and windy spell at the beginning of the month with gusts of 62mph recorded in Plymouth.

In July, we saw more periods of intense rain. One of the wettest areas was Wilmington, in Devon, where 119mm of rain was recorded in 24 hours at the beginning of the month.

August was another wet month with the rainfall being 161% above average.

The spells of prolonged rain were often followed by heavy showers and thunderstorms, which brought their own problems with the risk of hail, thunder and lightning.

Low pressure systems and strong winds can also produce rough conditions at sea with heavy swell and high waves.

Poole in Dorset and Falmouth in Cornwall were the busiest stations, with 45 call outs each, followed by Plymouth in Devon with 39 launches and St Helier in Jersey which dealt with 33 emergencies.

"This has been an unusual summer with some tricky weather," the RNLI's Insp Tom Mansell said.

He said the recent rescue of a surfer off Salcombe in strong winds and a heavy swell, showed how much was expected from the volunteer crews.

Insp Mansell also highlighted the rescues of two men who were rescued when their yacht capsized off Padstow and four groups of kayakers in trouble off Ilfracombe.

"These were all rescues carried out in very unseasonable weather," he said.

St Mary's all-weather lifeboat travelled the furthest distance in a single shout, when it was launched to rescue the catamaran Orinoco Flo 85 miles (137km) off the Isles of Scilly.

Meanwhile in Somerset, the Burnham-on-Sea lifeboat crews dealt with the longest shout of the summer - nearly 18 hours - when they joined the search for four-year-old Dylan Cecil, who drowned last month after slipping from a jetty while on a family holiday.

"Once again our volunteer crews have shown that they are committed and brave individuals, on standby to save lives at sea some rain or shine - even during summer when they deserved their own time off to be with their families," Insp Mansell added.

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