Deaf Dorset sailor who can't speak rescued by RNLI thanks to 'emergency' text and whiteboard

Selfie taken by Justin Paull sitting on the RNLI lifeboat as it is moving with Rich Tilley, the crew member who saved him.
Rich Tilley and Justin Paull after the rescue. Credit: RNLI

A deaf sailor was saved by the RNLI after his boat's engined failed at sea - despite not being able to use his radio as he is unable to talk.

Justin Paull, from Bridport, was fishing eight miles west of Wyke Regis on Thursday 5 May when his boat Sally Ann had an engine failure.

The 52-year-old was able to text the word ‘emergency’ to his sister Janine Paull-Sellick, who then made a video call and used BSL (British Sign Language) so Justin could explain both his main engine and his spare had failed.

Janine called the coastguard and they alerted the RNLI volunteers in Lyme Regis.

Lifeboat crew member Rich Tilley then boarded Justin’s boat and used white marker boards and a pen to ask questions and tell Justin what was happening.

Speaking about the plans to rescue Justin, Rich Tilley said: "We had been briefed about Justin before launching, so I thought we should take the boards to write messages for him.

"I wrote questions such 'are you fit and well?' and explained how we were going to tow his boat for about an hour to the safety of West Bay harbour.

"He was pleased to see us and even took a selfie with me.”

Justin was able to communicate with the crew to work out what was wrong and how he'd be rescued. Credit: RNLI

Justin’s sister, Janine said: “I can’t find words enough to thank the lifeboat crew. They were just brilliant.

“From a young age Justin found a love for the sea. It has always been his meditation, his place to go to switch off from the world and his daily challenges.

Justin Paull and his sister Janine Paull-Sellick visited the Lyme Regis RNLI station to thank them for their efforts. Credit: RNLI

"He has never feared the ocean, just loved it. However, as his loved-ones we have always worried about it. But nevertheless we support his passion for the sea.

“He has all the up-to-date technology and takes every safety measure. He always lets the family know when he is going out on his boat and when he will arrive back.

"The harbourmaster and his team always keep an eye out for him. He has amazing support from the community.”

Justin, who is chairman of Bridport Deaf Club, made a video in sign language explaining what happened.

He signed: “I went to use my second engine but the bracket failed and snapped and the engine fell into the sea.

"I had a huge struggle to get it back. I cannot believe it. It is the first time in my life that this has happened.

Justin Paull with his boat 'Sally Ann'. Credit: RNLI

"I am in shock, it’s terrible my boat is well prepared for emergencies, but the emergency back-up has failed.”

The rescue operation began at 12.40pm when the lifeboat was launched. After towing Justin’s boat into West Bay harbour the lifeboat crew returned to Lyme Regis at 3.15pm

The rescue of Justin, which happened in the middle of Deaf Awareness Week, was the 9th emergency call answered by the Lyme Regis lifeboat volunteers so far this year.