Twelve canoeists have been rescued in a combined operation between lifeboats and other vessels in a notoriously dangerous stretch of water off the Dorset coast after one six-man canoe capsized throwing its occupants into the water.
The canoeists are understood to have had no rescue equipment and no way of raising an alarm when near tragedy struck on Saturday.
The alert skipper of a dive boat, the Skua, reported the group in trouble in lightweight boats in difficult weather conditions off Old Harry Rocks, and needing immediate assistance. Portland Coastguard received the mayday message and broadcast a mayday relay calling for help from other vessels, and requesting the launch of the two Swanage RNLI lifeboats.
Nine of the 12 were rescued by a combination of Skua, another boat, Playtime, and the two lifeboats. The other three people were escorted back to shore. All 12 were taken back to Knoll Beach, Studland. There were no injuries.
Four canoeists were rescued from the same area four years ago. In 1993 four teenagers among an organised party of eight died when their kayaks were swamped further along the coast in Lyme Bay.
Portland Coastguard is warning recreational boaters to check the weather conditions before they set out and to ensure that they have a way to raise help such as VHF radio, distress flares, mini flares or as a back-up, mobile phone.
Ros Evans, Portland Coastguard Watch Manager said: "The 12 canoeists were out in difficult weather conditions, in easterly winds off Old Harry Rocks which has a notorious race and with the sea temperature still at winter levels. They were dressed only in shorts and T-shirts. They were wearing buoyancy aids but appeared to have no other safety gear, no rescue equipment and most worryingly, no way of raising the alarm.
"They were fortunate that the Skua happened to be in the vicinity and was able to offer assistance, despite having divers in the water. We would recommend that all boaters wear a personal flotation device, appropriate to their sport, such as a lifejacket or buoyancy aid. It's imperative that the weather, sea conditions and tides are checked and that people ensure they have the experience and training to be able to cope."