Stornoway Coastguard operations room was put on red alert this afternoon (Monday September 2nd) after a man overboard distress call was picked up from beyond the Butt of Lewis.

The automatically-generated AIS man overboard DSC (digital selective calling) beacon was picked up by Coastguard receivers at the Butt of Lewis and at Portnaguran at 1.25pm today. With no clear position given by the automated signal and a large possible search area, Coastguard officers put into action a plan to determine how and where the signal had been sent.

A Mayday relay call was put out through Channel 16 and was picked up by four vessels – three fishing boats and a passing yacht. One of the fishing vessels immediately contacted Stornoway Coastguard to say they had been going through a drill and had accidentally activated the signal.

A Coastguard spokesman told “The VHF signal from the man overboard device can be activated manually or through contact with water, or when the beacon loses contact with the parent vessel. In this incident it appears they were unaware they had activated the distress call.

“Even after hearing from them we still had to check the serial number on the beacon to ensure that no other person was in distress. If it had not been clear that this was the signal we received, we would have sent assets like the lifeboat and helicopter to the site and would have drawn up a search plan.

“In the event, it was a good live training exercise and had the team on high alert as we established what had happened. All persons safely accounted for, the incident was closed at 1.46pm.”