THREE fishermen had a lucky escape after their boat capsized and they were rescued by the Whitby Lifeboat crew.

The incident started when a 13-metre scalloper fishing in the North Sea began to lean to one side late last Saturday evening. Before the crew had time to radio for help their boat capsized and the three fishermen found themselves in the water.

Within minutes all that was visible of the vessel was the hull of the boat, which the three men managed to scramble onto.

For more than two and a half hours the men held on as the boat continued to slowly sink, fearing for their lives.

Fortunately as the pressure within the boat increased, this triggered the emergency life raft to release, which in turn sent a mayday distress call from the emergency position indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB, fitted to the raft.

At this point the three men had to re-enter the water to climb into life raft, while the beacon automatically alerted the Coastguard. The men were able to fire the flares stored aboard the life raft, in order to assist nearby vessels to locate them.

HM Coastguard launched a rescue helicopter and contacted Whitby RNLI which launched its all-weather lifeboat.

As the small life raft was 76 nautical miles north east of Whitby, it would take more than three hours to reach them, so the Coastguard sent mayday signals to alert any nearby boats. A nearby fishing vessel was able to reach the three men and rescue them from the water.

Shortly afterwards, the Coastguard helicopter arrived and a paramedic was winched down. The three men were checked over and did not need airlifting to hospital.

Whitby's volunteer RNLI crew arrived on the scene in the early hours of Sunday morning and took the men on board. As the sun rose the crew brought the rescued sailors back to Whitby Harbour.

Richard Dowson, station mechanic at Whitby RNLI, who attended the rescue, said: “When you get a call to an EPIRB you don't know what to expect and you know it is a serious emergency.

“These three men had a very lucky escape and we send our thanks to the fishing vessel that answered the mayday call and retrieved them from the life raft.

“The men showed great bravery managing to get out of the water and onto the hull of the boat, not knowing when help would arrive. Luckily the life raft had the beacon fitted which alerted the emergency services with an exact location, or the outcome would have been very different.

“There was nothing the three men could have done to prevent the rapid sinking of their fishing vessel, and we are sad for them that they have lost their livelihood, but the main thing is they have come away with their lives.”