Having a mobile phone in his pocket made the difference between life and death when Martin Blount got jammed head-first inside his cockpit locker while working alone on his boat

Qualified marine engineer Martin Blount shares the terrifying ordeal of getting stuck upside down aboard his boat while working alone, on a river mooring.

I’m not an amateur. I’ve never had to call the RNLI in years and years and years of boating and working on boats – other than this time, and for it to be something so ridiculous is totally embarrassing.

As it happens I was working on my own boat on a Lymington River mooring, fitting a new heater inside the aft lazarette locker, port side.

It is quite a contained space and I dropped a bolt, which naturally dropped all the way down and hit the hull.

I leant in to retrieve it but my arm wasn’t quite long enough.

As I edged in a bit further I suddenly went in head first.

The locker is about the same size as me and I got jammed.

My head struck the hull and my face was pressed against the bottom of the boat, it was horrendous.

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Martin Blount being pulled out from his lazarette locker by RNLI Lymington crew. Credit: RNLI Lymington

It took me a few minutes to realise the seriousness of the situation. Clearly I tried to get out but with the shape of the hull, all slidey surfaces, there was nothing to push against.

I was in a lot of pain because I’d bashed the top of my head and my shoulder was trapped against some of the woodwork that supports the rudder. I was pretty much jammed.

I used to spend a fair amount of time working at heights.

One of the main things I was taught was that if you fall and end up upside down, it’s far more serious than if you’re just dangling from a harness because all your vital organs start compressing your lungs, making it difficult to breathe – you cannot get enough oxygen around your body.

So I knew I wasn’t going to survive for long in my predicament.

Thankfully my phone was in my pocket, but it wasn’t easy to get it out.

I was terrified I’d end up dropping it and it slipping away out of arm’s reach.

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Martin Blount’s yacht Wakii on its Lymington River mooring. Credit: Martin Blount

999 EMERGENCY

Because of the position I was in, I had difficulty seeing the phone display.

I managed to call 999 but it took me a while.

I said: ‘I’ve fallen in the bilge on my boat, I need some help as quickly as possible.’

They bombard you with questions, but the lady I spoke to was wonderful, despite the fact I was swearing a bit!

She kept talking to me until she heard the voices of the lifeboat crew as they arrived on the scene.

From the time I made the call to the lifeboat’s arrival took about 40 minutes – it seemed like forever.

The call operator was talking to me throughout the entire ordeal, it really helped to pass the time. I never got her name, I would like to thank her.

It was about lunchtime on 22 March, the RNLI called it ‘the Mother’s Day Rescue’.

When the lifeboat crew arrived on board, they didn’t see me at first.

There was just a pair of Wellington boots sticking up out of the locker.

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A glimpse of Martin’s sailing boot (top right) sticking out of the aft locker. Credit: RNLI Lymington

They went inside the cabin. I couldn’t muster enough breath to shout but they found me eventually.

It took three of them to lift me out by my legs. I weigh 190 pounds. I couldn’t assist them at all.

A CLOSE CALL

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Martin’s head emerges from being trapped in his lazarette locker. Credit: RNLI Lymington

I would not have survived for very much longer.

Without my phone I’d be dead, no doubt about it.

The lifeboat crew were terrific. Jamie was the first to get to me.

They stuck me on some oxygen. I was in a bit of a state.

I wouldn’t have been able to stand up unaided but after a few minutes on the oxygen I managed to get into the lifeboat alright and was taken ashore.

The Coastguard had turned up in a four-wheel drive vehicle but they didn’t have a boat to reach me.

It was the RNLI who had the boat they were very well equipped and very highly trained.

I’ve cruised the Atlantic several times and have actually done it on my boat Wakii.

I carry a very good, extensive first aid kit but they didn’t need any of it.

They took me to an ambulance on the Town Quay, where I stayed for about one-and-a-half hours on oxygen and all sorts of other instruments.

Fortunately somebody had called my son. Being in Lymington a lot, I probably know all of the RNLI volunteers.

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Martin is put on an oxygen machine: ‘I was in a bit of a state’. Credit: RNLI Lymington

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Lymington RNLI volunteer crew administer first aid to Martin on deck. Credit: RNLI Lymington

POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS

My son rocked up and we went back to the boat to lock up and turn the batteries off.

I didn’t go on board, I was a bit shaken, so we came home.

By the following day I had a huge lump on the top of my head where I’d hit it on the hull, and my shoulder swelled up.

It took me a few days to get over it.

If I hadn’t had my phone I’d be dead now. Who would’ve found me?

I couldn’t have called anybody, I couldn’t shout, nobody was on the river – it was a quiet time.

It could have been terminal really.

My wife has dementia. In fact I’d told her I was going to the boat but moments after leaving she would have forgotten.

The boat is vitally important to me, as I am my wife’s carer.

We’ve been together for 52 years. I’ve known her since she was 18.

It’s been a long time, and then to suddenly have her not really understanding much has been so difficult.

I’m still working, I’ve chosen to do that, it helps keep me sane.

There’s very little help for carers of people with dementia, so my boat is a place of solace.

You hear about post-traumatic stress. I can understand that now.

For a couple of days afterwards, I kept reliving the accident.

I’m not concerned about going aboard on my own now, but you won’t find me leaning into that locker.

I actually still haven’t fitted that heater!

Continues below…

LESSONS LEARNED

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Lymington RNLI transfer Martin to a waiting ambulance on the Town Quay. Credit: Lymington RNLI

1. KEEP YOUR PHONE HANDY

Always keep your mobile phone with you – it will be no good to you on the chart table should you get into serious trouble.

I’ve since learned that you can make an emergency call in a couple of button pushes.

Knowing that function would certainly have helped me.

Also don’t keep it in a top pocket where it could fall out easily.

2. REMEMBER YOUR BERTH OR MOORING NUMBER

Finding a boat on a river mooring or marina berth is more difficult than offshore or out at sea, so always remember your berth or mooring number as the emergency services will need this.

3. SWITCH ON AIS

Turning on AIS (Automatic Identification System) would have helped.

AIS devices use VHF frequencies to transmit their location which can be picked by all AIS receiving stations within range, including other vessels.

4. TELL A FRIEND

If working on the boat alone inform a third party and get them to call you from time to time.

Tell someone what time to expect you to return home.

5. SECURE LOCKER LIDS

If working in a large locker, secure the hatch as it could blow shut and lock you inside.

Some locker lids are self-locking and cannot be opened from the inside.

6. TAKE EXTRA CARE

Since the accident, many people have told me of their near-misses.

Falling down hatches or getting stuck seems to be a fairly common problem.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Martin Blount. Credit: Harriet Wilson

Experienced sailor Martin, aged 71, of Barton-on-Sea, is a qualified marine engineer who runs his own business – MJB Marine Services in Hampshire.

He has cruised the Atlantic several times including in his own boat, a Wauquiez Centurion 36, which he keeps on a Lymington River mooring.

Martin also cares for his wife who suffers from dementia. They have been together for 52 years.

‘IT COULD HAPPEN TO ANYONE’

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Martin is assisted aboard Lymington’s Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat David Bradley. Credit: RNLI Lymington

Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Lymington voluntary crew were paged at 1438 on 22 March by HM Coastguard to assist Martin.

Three crewmembers launched Lymington’s Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat David Bradley and managed to locate the cruiser on its river mooring to the north of Berthon.

The lifeboat moored alongside the vessel and three crew members went on board to try and locate the casualty.

RNLI volunteer Jamie Lever was among the rescuers.

They believed the casualty to be in the bilge so immediately went inside the cabin.

They then went back on deck and found Martin wedged upside down in the lazarette locker.

Jamie said: ‘When we couldn’t find him, I turned around and all I could see were his wellies.’

Helm Phil Baker described it as ‘a very unique shout, which I haven’t seen in my 30 years of service.’

He added: ‘The casualty was very lucky and he did the right thing by having a phone on his person, so he was able to contact HM Coastguard for help.’

Getting stuck on a boat is more common than people might realise.

Jamie, who used to work on superyachts, said: ‘It happened to me, I’ve managed to get stuck on board a boat before and I obviously work on the water.

‘I was on a 60ft Grand Banks motorboat, I went under the stairs to service the vacuum tank for the toilet and I got my hips stuck. I was working alone and it took me an hour to get out.

‘I think it’s a very common thing.

‘And in fact when I went to retrieve Martin’s phone from his locker I nearly went in, it could have been a comedy of errors.

‘It’s just shows the importance of carrying a mobile phone in your pocket – not the top one as it could fall out – and to tell somebody what time you think you’re going to be back.’

The lifeboat crewmembers assessed Martin before lifting him onto the deck of the yacht.

They monitored his blood pressure and administered oxygen and once stable, Martin was transferred to the lifeboat and then into the care of the ambulance crew waiting on Lymington Town Quay.

Martin praised the ambulance crew: ‘They were very reassuring. I was in there for an hour and a half and they made me feel a lot better.’

Later Martin contacted the RNLI.

He said: ‘Thank you to the crew and lifeboat for getting out of a difficult situation very professionally.

‘I don’t think I would have survived much longer and will be forever in your debt.’