Dad recalls moment he 'could have lost one or more' of his kids when paddleboarding trip went wrong

John is a careful man.

He is not one to ever be rash with people’s lives, especially when it comes to his children.

So when he tells you how easily he found himself in trouble on our coasts earlier this year, you might want to listen.

“We got lucky,” he said. “I could have lost one or more of my children that day.”

The father of four from Liverpool had taken his children – Ethan (15), Gracie (13), Heidi (12) and Lottie (7) – and their dog for their first-ever trip to the Isle of Wight, with fantasies of the perfect water-based Spring bank holiday weekend. But the 37-year-old's break away almost turned into a nightmare when he and all four children had to call for help from Her Majesty’s Coastguard.

John with his four kids and dog on the beach they eventually became stuck on

John said that he and the children had decided to try paddleboarding on Sunday, May 30 and – after ensuring they were properly kitted out with buoyancy aids, leashes and a fully charged mobile phone – had set off from Freshwater Bay in the late morning. They made their way around to Watcombe Bay before settling down for an hour or so on the beach.

But the landscape and conditions changed in that time, so subtly that none of them even noticed, until they tried to leave again.

“It all seemed fine when we got to the beach and the app said we would be fine,” he said. “I got distracted talking to a guy and by lunchtime when we wanted to head back, the swell was too much and the waves seemed so big.

They were not the same waves we came in with.

“But we still thought we could get off the beach, I was on edge and really worried that the beach was going to get swallowed up – the app said it was going to be the highest tide of the month or something so I felt very worried, I had my kids with me.”

The serene conditions quickly turned, trapping the family on the beach

He said the family then repeatedly tried to get past the breaking waves, with his two older children eventually succeeding while his youngest two continued to struggle.

“My seven-year-old was really finding it tough,” he said. “A massive wave came and swept my daughter off the board and right over my head – she disappeared under water for what felt like forever, before finally surfacing.

“It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. But also the moment that I realised we were out of our depth and needed help. So we decided we needed the coastguard then.”

Coastguard rescue teams from Needles and Ventnor were sent, alongside the RNLI lifeboats from Yarmouth as well as the Freshwater Independent Lifeboat. Three others, an adult and two children, were also stuck on the beach alongside John’s family and in need of help.

But, because of the size of the waves, John said the lifeboats were unable to get to shore.

“I tried to do everything right,” he added. “I’m careful and understand why the warnings are there, we were all wearing lifejackets and I’d downloaded an app on my phone for tide times and checked them too.

“But I took my eye off the sea for an hour and it all changed.”

The Needles and Ventnor Coastguard Rescue Teams carried out a 'complex' rope rescue to bring the family to the top of the cliff from the beach below

It was decided that a rope rescue would be the safest way to extract the group of eight and a dog, winching them up the cliff side and off the beach.

Andrew Woodford, deputy station officer at Ventnor coastguard rescue team, was on hand that day to help, alongside his Ventnor team and Needles coastguard colleagues. He said that the rescue was a ‘complex technical rescue’ that utilised the full experience of the teams. Lottie was also the youngest person Andrew had ever seen recovered up a cliff in his two-decade spell as a coastguard.

“To me, being available to help people and support them at the coast is what we commit to 24/7 and we train hard to ensure a professional safe rescue is always carried out,” Andrew said. “Rope rescue is demanding for rescue teams – it involves going to risky cliff areas, but with the high level of kit we carry we can deploy safely in rescue circumstances. It is arguably the most complex technical rescue procedure carried out by the coastguard rescue service.

"Regardless of why people are in difficulty, the fact that they are means they need people like us to bring them to safety.

“On this occasion it is clear the dad did everything right and shows how an early 999 call is essential to a timely response.”

The Ventnor and Needles teams are highly trained in rope rescue 

John had a few final thoughts on the experience.

“With hindsight I should have waited for the tide to drop,” he added. “But it was still the right decision to call for help in the moment, I only know the beach didn’t disappear because I saw it.

“It was embarrassing though. I’m not stupid and I am careful, especially with my kids, and the teams were so good about making me feel less embarrassed. They were brilliant. They even brought up all of our belongings and the dog too.

“It was a bit scary being winched up a cliff but when we were all back at the top, I felt huge relief. If it weren’t for the coastguard and RNLI that day, it’s scary to think what decision I might have made.

“I guess it’s fair to say my first experience of paddleboarding is going to be my last.”

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