Durham student rescued at sea after rowing boat capsizes

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A Durham University student capsized in a rowing boat off the coast of Whitby in December. Tom Brown, the Boatman of Trevelyan College Boat Club, was with another experienced rower, a member of Whitby Coastal Rowing Club and not a Durham student, when their boat met a strong cross-shore wind and subsequently overturned as the pair attempted to return to harbour. After gaining the attention of another rower, the Coastguard was called and the capsized duo, who were at seas with two other pairs, were rescued and taken to shore.

Tom Brown told Palatinate that “the conditions” at sea “changed quickly” after 5 to 10 minutes, with the boat capsizing when his oar became stuck in the water. After becoming “very scared” that he would drown, the RNLI arrived after 10 minutes. Both Mr Brown and his rowing partner were trained for the event of capsizing, which the RNLI cited as being critical for their rescue. Jonathan Marr, who led the inshore rescue boat, said that this training “was invaluable in this incident as it’s very easy to panic when you end up in cold water unexpectedly”.

Johnathan Marr described the scene as he arrived in the lifeboat to capsized rowers: “When we arrived we were relieved to see that both casualties were wearing lifejackets and had managed to climb onto the upturned hull of the rowing boat”. Once they were returned to land, Mr Brown and the other rower were attended to by paramedics.

I want to give back to the people that saved my life and make sure they can continue to provide not only their lifesaving service at sea, but also the water safety education that is paramount to all people who partake in water sports and other activity where the sea is always a danger

Tom Brown

Mr Brown said of the RNLI team that came to their rescue: “[They] were fantastic. They were non-judgemental and their only intention was to make sure we were safe. The paramedics on shore were the same as both of us were at risk of hypothermia… Since the incident both they and the coastguard have offered to work alongside the club to improve our current water safety protocols, adding further mitigations.”

After the incident, Mr Brown is completing a 238km rowing fundraiser for the RNLI, rowing 1km for each lifeboat station around the United Kingdom. Mr Brown explained his motivations, saying, “I want to give back to the people that saved my life and make sure they can continue to provide not only their lifesaving service at sea, but also the water safety education that is paramount to all people who partake in water sports and other activity where the sea is always a danger.”

Data from the National Water Safety Forum shows that there were 151 accidental water-related fatalities in 2022, although 61 per cent of these took place at inland waters, as opposed to at sea. 59 per cent of these accidental deaths came from recreational water activities, such as rowing.

The RNLI’s guidance for water-based sports advises individuals to “always wear a lifejacket”, “carry a means of calling for help”, “always check the conditions before heading out”, and to “undertake the relevant training so you know what to do in an emergency”.

Tom Brown is undeterred from rowing after his at sea accident. He commented to Palatinate, that “It has made me more aware of the consequences of rowing at sea and also taught me how to better handle such situations if they arise again. It hasn’t put me off rowing at sea whatsoever – I am looking forward to hopefully competing in the sport over the summer”.

To support Tom’s RNLI fundraiser, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/page/tom-brown-1703332996825

Image: Whitby Harbour via Tom Brown

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