A KEEN sailor who rescued a kayaker who fell into the sea near Helensburgh last week says the man he saved is lucky to still be alive.

Helensburgh man Mike Heath was sailing his Laser dinghy on near Rhu marina when he saw a man fall into the water.

Mike, a mathematics professor at Strathclyde University, headed straight for the scene and managed to help the man into his small one-person boat before taking him to the shore near Rosneath Castle caravan park.

Describing what happened on the evening of Tuesday, June 16, Mike told the Advertiser: “It was about half past eight at night, and I’d been out sailing, as I do, coming down past Helensburgh and Rhu marina.

“I spotted two kayakers heading out from the marina and across towards the caravan park. I could see they weren’t wearing any lifejackets, and had no tops at all, only a pair of shorts.

“The surface was getting a little bit choppy; I saw one of them was struggling a bit, and the next moment he’s in the water.

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“The sort of kayaks they were in are very hard to handle in choppy waters, and over he went.

“Being in the water between Rhu and Rosneath is not a great place to be, so I went straight over to him and managed to get him on board my boat.

“To be fair to him, he was extremely contrite.

“His kayak had filled with water and sunk just below the surface – I couldn’t tow it, so I abandoned it and took him ashore to the caravan park.

“By this time his chum had come ashore and got himself an inflatable dinghy, and he was trying to go back out and recover the kayak, but he was starting to get into difficulty himself.

“Fortunately a police launch [from the Ministry of Defence Police’s Clyde marine unit] was passing by, and I was able to flag them down and they took it from there.”

Mike said the incident served as a salutary lesson in how quickly and easily things can go wrong on the water – and how important it is to be fully equipped before you set out.

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“People die doing what he did,” he continued.

“The main point is: wear enough clothing. Above all, wear a lifejacket. And before you go out on the water, make sure that you know what to do if anything does happen.

“What would he have done if I hadn’t happened to be sailing past? I asked him what he’d have done if I hadn’t been there, and he said he’d have started swimming for the shore – and that’s deadly.

“You need to stay still and preserve your body heat – kettle up, and keep your arms close to your sides.

“Even on a lovely warm day above the surface it’s extremely cold when you’re in the water, and the tides there can be strong at times.”

The Firth of Clyde and the sea lochs near Helensburgh have seen more and more people during the fine spring and early summer weather – but Mike said he was concerned that too many people were setting out on the water without thinking of their own, and others’, safety.

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“It’s been wonderful to see so many people out enjoying the water in the good weather we’ve had during the lockdown,” he added.

“But an awful lot of people aren’t taking nearly enough safety precautions.

“The most crucial thing is to wear a lifejacket. That will keep you afloat, whatever happens.

“And if you’re not completely, 110 per cent, confident in your own abilities, don’t go out on the water on your own.

“Know your limits, and be careful, because things can go badly wrong very, very quickly.”

The RNLI’s Helensburgh lifeboat was not called to last week’s incident, as Mike was able to return the man to the shore without any problems.

But Howard Morrison, operations manager for the local lifeboat crew, reminded people in the area to take care when out on the water.

READ MORE: RNLI's Helensburgh crew joins search for missing man in the Firth of Clyde

Mr Morrison said: “As we move towards more relaxation of the restrictions in Scotland, we would like to remind water users to be prepared before returning to the water.

“As your boat has been sitting idle for the last few months, please ensure you have good fresh fuel in the tank and that your water and oil is at the correct level.

“Always check the weather forecast and sea conditions before you set off.

“Always wear a lifejacket; if you fall into the water unexpectedly, you are four times as likely to survive wearing one.

“Always carry a means for help. And do not put yourself, your family or the emergency services at risk.

“If you see someone in difficulty in the water, don’t delay. Contact the emergency services, and stay safe.”

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