Three Swanage Lifeboat crew who saved two lives, awarded RNLI commendation

After the dramatic rescue of two young men stranded in a flooded cave below Ballard Down near Old Harry Rocks, three lifeboat volunteers from Swanage have been recognised for their bravery.

Matt Steeden, Alice Haw and Alan Parmenter have received a commendation from the RNLI following the incident, which happened in January 2020.


This comes at the start of Swanage’s traditional Lifeboat Week, which is usually a week of packed events but has been scaled back this year due to the uncertainty over Covid.

RNLI cave rescue
Swanage RNLI

The crew on the Swanage inshore lifeboat approach the cave

Featured on the BBC Saving Lives at Sea TV programme

The rescue, which was featured on the BBC Saving Lives at Sea TV programme, was recorded by the RNLI as two lives saved, which means that without the assistance of the lifeboat volunteers, the young men would have most likely died.

The two men were attempting to walk along the shoreline by Old Harry Rocks when they realised that the tide was coming in fast.

They sheltered in a cave to the west of Old Harry Rocks, that is under water when the tide comes in. With the freezing January sea rising quickly, they were lucky to get a mobile signal and were able to phone 999.

RNLI cave rescue
Swanage RNLI

The crew spot a light in the cave

Attracted the lifeboat crew by shining their phone torches

The Swanage inshore lifeboat (ILB) was launched and headed across the bay to Ballard Down, just as the light was about to fade. Fortunately for the men, they were able to attract the lifeboat crew by shining their phone torches.

The winter sea conditions made approaching the casualties difficult, as there were breaking waves in an area known to have many submerged rocks.

If the ILB’s propeller had hit a rock then the boat would have lost power, leaving the crew in an even more perilous position.

“Would have been swept out into the freezing sea”

Volunteer lifeboat Helmsman Matt Steeden said

“After initially trying to veer in to reach the casualties it became clear we would need to take the boat in as close as we could reach and then my two crew would jump in, hold the boat in the breaking swell and then recover the casualties to the lifeboat.

“With the light fading fast and seeing that the casualties were already cold and wet, we asked for the all-weather lifeboat (ALB) to launch to our location so that the casualties could quickly be transferred to the ALB where they could be sheltered from the elements.

“I manoeuvred the boat as close to the shoreline as I could reach in the surf. Alan held the boat head to sea and Alice went over the casualties to guide them to the lifeboat. Both casualties were quickly recovered before the crew jumped aboard and we made our way out through the surf.

“The casualties were extremely lucky to be able to make contact by phone from their location and if we had not arrived as quickly as we did, the casualties would have been swept out into the freezing sea.”

RNLI cave rescue
Swanage RNLI

The cave was near the Pinnacle at Old Harry Rocks

“Lucky to be alive”

Swanage Lifeboat coxswain, Dave Turnbull said

“This rescue shows how quickly a situation can quickly become dangerous and a matter of life or death. These two young men are lucky to be alive and I’m extremely proud of how Matt, Alan and Alice handled the situation in challenging conditions.

“At the time of the rescue Alan and Alice had only recently passed out as ILB full crew and this rescue showed how all their hard work and training had paid off.”

Three Swanage Lifeboat crew
Swanage RNLI

Alice Haw, Matt Steeden and Alan Parmenter

Swanage Lifeboat Week raising vital funds

Swanage Lifeboat Week is an annual event to raise vital funds to support rescues like this one.

While uncertainty over holding events has persisted due to Covid, the week of fundraising this year has been scaled back but there are still some things happening.

Swanage Lifeboat Golf Team
Swanage RNLI

Swanage Lifeboat Golf Team: George Slack, Chris Tomes, Andy Lyons and Darren Tomes

RNLI Lifeboat golf day

The RNLI Lifeboat golf day took place on Friday 6th August 2021 at the Dorset Golf and Country Club and raised more than £2,600.

On Thursday 19th August 2021 The RNLI sailing race will go ahead, organised by Swanage Sailing Club and on Friday 20th August 2021, it’s the RNLI flag day and a team of people will be collecting donations in and around Swanage.

They’ll also be a pop-up RNLI Lifeboat stall on the seafront by Swanage Information Centre on Friday 20th August 2021 from 10 am to 4 pm.

Watch a clip of the cave rescue

To donate

Donate to Swanage Lifeboat Week via its fundraising website

BBC Saving Lives at Sea

The full BBC Saving Lives at Sea episode featuring the cave rescue and interviews with the crew and one of the men rescued is on BBC iPlayer at 45 minutes, 45 seconds.

Swanage Lifeboat week activity
Swanage RNLI

Swanage Lifeboat Week in pre-Covid times

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