Stranded swimmer’s life saved by chance when rescuers pass ‘wrong side’ of buoy in Exe Estuary

A stranded swimmer’s life was saved after he was found by chance clinging to a buoy a mile from shore in the Exe Estuary.

The man, who was suffering the early stages of hypothermia, was plucked to safety in the Exe Estuary, just off Exton, after a chance move by his rescuers to pass a buoy on the ‘wrong’ side instead of keeping it to the left of their boat.

If we had passed it on the right side, we may not have spotted him…

The man’s rescuers – Exeter City Council harbour patrol team – have warned against wild swimming alone and to check the tides before going into estuary waters.

Harbourmaster Grahame Forshaw said the decision to pass the buoy on the starboard – righthand – side was taken because the navigation marker ‘didn’t look right in the water’.

He said the tide had been on the ebb – going out to sea – and running at around three miles an hour, which would have been ‘exhausting’ for a swimmer trying to reach shore.

Mr Forshaw said: “As we rounded the buoy, all three of us in the wheelhouse could see a young man clinging to the blind side of the buoy.

“If we had passed it on the right side, we may not have spotted him.

“Immediately we saw him, I put the two engines into astern gear to stop the boat moving forward, and the two crew threw the swimmer a life ring buoy with a line, which the young man grabbed hold of.

“We quickly got the poor chap on board, put him in the wheelhouse and dried him off with a towel before putting some dry clothes on him.

“He was in a pretty poor state. The man was shivering uncontrollably, clearly shocked and fearful about almost losing his life.”

The man told his rescuers he had left his car at Starcross and decided on a swim because of the good weather.

The harbour patrol team, Nick Stone, Graham Manchester and Mr Forshaw, had been working near Topsham and were heading back to Exmouth when they spotted the casualty.

They took him to Turf Lock where they were met by paramedics and an ambulance.

Mr Forshaw said: “The distance from where he went into the water to where we spotted him is almost a mile.

“He had no chance of getting back to where he started and he was exhausted as well as starting to suffer the effects of hypothermia.

“If he hadn’t been spotted, he would very soon have started to lose the ability to swim, would have let go of the buoy and probably drowned.”

Mr Forshaw urged swimmers to consider the water temperature in the Exe Estuary, saying it ‘rarely’ rose above 15 degrees.

He said: “If you are tempted to get in the water just stop, take a moment to think about what you are doing and never get into the water without somebody on the shore watching out for you.

“Never go out alone or too far from the shore. It is well known that most people who sadly drown, do so within five metres of the shore.”

The man was rescued by the team on August 26, said Exeter City Council.

  • Are you the swimmer who was plucked to safety, or do you know him? Email
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