Sea rescues hit all-time high

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LIFEBOAT crews are blaming inexperienced and drunken sailors for a massive increase in the number of rescues last year.

The RNLI says 2006 was its busiest year ever in Scotland, with rescues in the Lothians jumping by almost 40 per cent. They say many people are failing to take basic precautions, with broken-down yachts and stranded walkers accounting for a higher proportion of rescues in the Forth.

Queensferry, Dunbar and North Berwick lifeboat stations rescued 116 people in 2006, an increase from 86 last year.

David Smart, a helmsman at Queensferry lifeboat station, said: "Some people shouldn't be allowed out in the Forth on their own. It's not Swallows and Amazons, it's a commercial river.

"We have a lot of machine failures, as well as people getting tangled up in lobster nets. It's a shame some people won't get a bit of basic training. If you got an expensive car, then you'd learn how to drive it."

Visitors stranded on Cramond Island at high tide also accounted for a number of calls. And many were simply false alarms, such as a child's homemade raft spotted adrift in the Forth.

Gary Fairbairn, full-time coxswain of the Dunbar lifeboat station, said: "A lot of the time, people are not taking precautions. We advise everyone who comes to the coast to check weather conditions. But the attitude of some people is they have travelled 60 miles and they are going to go out whatever the weather.

"At times it can be one after another. In the summer it's usually pleasure boats. We also get a lot of calls from people who've slipped on rocks and broken an arm or a leg. It's usually kids, but we had a few adults last year.

"We went out for one guy who went to sea with a gallon of petrol and ran out within ten minutes. He was surprised he only got 15 miles. He had just bought the boat and knew nothing about it.

"We often see people who've had too much to drink, and then get in a boat. It's not surprising when they get into trouble."

But he said people should always call for help rather than trying to rescue themselves. The volunteer crews are on call 24 hours a day throughout the year.

Other call-outs included a boat crew without oars near North Berwick and a diver with a broken leg near Dunbar.

John Caldwell, divisional inspector for the RNLI in Scotland, said the increase could be due to more people enjoying activities on and by the sea. But he urged them to check they had the right equipment and clothing and check weather conditions, whether they were walking along a beach or going out to sea.

He said: "Last year our crews responded 24 hours a day in conditions that sometimes reached hurricane force 12. The incidents ranged from people stranded by the tide, in trouble in the water, medical evacuations and aircraft crashes as well as helping stricken vessels."

The RNLI rescued well over 1000 people off the Scottish coast last year - the highest number since records began. The biggest increase was the number of pleasure boats, which account for 36 per cent of rescues.

The charity is currently running its largest ever fundraising campaign, aiming to raise 10 million over five years to train crews. It depends entirely on voluntary contributions.