Skysail Training


Helicopter Hi- Line Rescue

India Juliet

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On April 19th I spent the day in the Solent undergoing a Yachtmaster exam, cramming more unusual manoeuvres into 24 hours than would normally be achieved in a season.  However, that’s a different story:  during the day we also took part in a Hi-line practice, with the Coastguard Sea King SAR helicopter India Juliet based at Lee on Solent.  Our examiner checked that this was a training day and any yacht can call the Coastguard and request a practice if the schedule allows.  We had clear sunny weather with a Northerly Force 3, and spent the morning on tide problems and man overboard exercises when we were least expecting them, then IJ appeared on the horizon and we set up communication on Ch 67.  The first step was a briefing from IJ covering the following:

  -  Follow IJ instructions at all times.  This turned out to be very difficult as the noise level totally obliterates any voice communication.  Our examiner spent much time down below on the VHF maintaining communication

  -  Remove all loose items from the deck and cockpit - this prevents FOD (Foreign Object Damage) to the helicopter, and to your crew.  Make sure your glasses are secure.

  -  Have available your largest bucket to stow the hi-line when you pull it in.  DO NOT ATTACH THE LINE TO THE YACHT.

  -  Put the boat on port tack hard on the wind (the helicopter captain sits on the starboard side) and make maximum speed.  Motor sail if necessary.  Contrary to my expectations we kept all sail up.

For the first attempt we started off Beaulieu entrance in a Northerly Force 3 and soon found that we were badly positioned with too little sea room, so we motored down to Gurnard on the island shore and tried again.  IJ positioned herself astern and to port about 100 feet up, moved in closer and lowered the line, which is a soft cord with a weighted bag which we grabbed and started to flake down in the bucket.  Although IJ did dip the line in the sea to earth any static, our examiner assured us that static build up is not a problem, and as he spent much of his RN career as a diver, frequently with helicopters, this was OK with us.  (Note there are strong opinions to the contrary).

Our first lesson was that ideally you need two people to handle the line - as you look up to pull it is difficult to flake the line down with no potential tangles.  However, you can manage with one if you take it steadily.

IJ’s captain was clearly visible in the starboard cockpit and was urging us to make more speed.   He must fly upwind to maintain best control of speed and height and this keeps the downwash from the rotor well astern of the yacht.  Surprisingly we could feel no effect from this at all, so sailing was very straightforward.  Our helm sensibly picked a shore mark to help maintain his course, but lesson two was that if the wind shifts you need to steer to it, and as we covered two or three miles in the exercise a shift is quite likely. 

After we had about twenty metres of line in the bucket the winch man started down.  The hi line is attached to the lower end of the winch cable. When he was on the port quarter, 20 feet off and 10 feet above the sea, he signalled us to pull him into the cockpit with the hi line, and he took control with very clear hand signals, which was the only possible way of communicating.  A stretcher was lowered, then recovered.   Finally the winch man was recovered, and we paid out the hi-line keeping it free of tangles.  The total exercise took about 15 minutes, and it was all action with very high noise levels.

It would be a tougher scenario with more wind and sea, but the exercise was great experience and if you get the opportunity do not miss it.

November 20th 2011