Make York safer by supporting our voluntary water rescue service

Make York safer by supporting our voluntary water rescue service


With flooding all over the country this week and the Ouse so high again, it seems pertinent to be talking to York’s own water rescue service. 

I met Dave Horn, Senior Rescue Operations Manager of York Rescue Boat to find out all about this crucial service in our city. 

Essentially York Rescue Boat is the Mountain Rescue Service of the water.

He told me how the organisation was started by a city door man, Dave Benson, who lost a friend after he jumped in the river in 2013.

Dave recognised that there was a gap in the support services in York, particularly on a Friday and Saturday night, and wanted to try and ensure nobody went through the pain that he had felt from losing his friend.

So in 2014, 15 people responded to a facebook request for volunteers, to set up a water rescue service. They either needed to have operations or boat experience, or simply have the time, and the want, to make a difference. 

The request attracted people from all backgrounds; Police, the building trade, Navy, ex-RNLI and together they fundraised hard to buy a 2nd hand boat. 

In May 2015, the volunteer group were asked if they could do anything to assist the Tour De France event, and so York Rescue Boat became operational. 

Initially they thought they would be ‘dragging drunks from the river’, but in actual fact, that is only around 2% of what they do.  

Around 80% of their works revolves around foot patrols checking on people who are near the river, often alone, who might be vulnerable in some way.

Their work can simply be asking someone ‘Are you alright?’ and striking up a conversation to show them someone cares. 

They find many people – often between the age of 18 – 25, this being the main age group of incidents in the river – who find the river peaceful, but are  a bit confused, some times suffering from depression or anxiety, who don’t know what they are doing with their life, where to go and, in fact, if anyone is actually interested anyway. 


Another large part of the their service is educating people.

Last year they talked to 2,800 young people via schools, universities, local groups and the Barracks. They focus on four things

  • Not going near the river
  • If you do near the river, go safely
  • How to rescue yourself
  • How to rescue others 

Dave believes knowledge is power, and knowing about the dangers of the river and what to do if you find yourself in a difficult situation, is a major part of awareness.  


York Rescue Boat spend a lot of effort trying to prevent any water incidents. 

They patrol the river, and the river bank, on boat and on foot between 6.30pm and 2.30am every Friday and Saturday night without fail. They also patrol during the races, at events close to the river side, and at local events like the Micklegate Soapbox. 

They are not in the business of preventing people’s fun, they want to prevent death and heartache.

When the foot patrols come across drunken young individuals, they attempt to get them to call their friends or their parents, and to steer them on a non-river route home. 


The third service York Rescue Boat provide is rescue, both people and vehicles from the rivers and floods.

Dave’s top tips for young people on a night out are:

  1. Know the route you are going to take home.
  2. Let people know the route you are taking.
  3. If one of your friends is very drunk, don’t leave them alone, take responsibility for them.
  4. Don’t see the river as a challenge; if you wouldn’t do it when you are sober, don’t attempt it when you are drunk.
  5. If you feel low, there is always someone willing to talk.

Don’t forget to keep your eyes on the river, and if you see someone in it, call 999

Dave and I went on to talk about what issues were prominent at the moment in York and he highlighted the safety ladders at different points along the river. These ladders enable someone to self rescue, as they show the closest exit out of the river. 

The team would very much like to clean them up and paint them with luminous paint (on the river side), and maintain them. For some reason, the council – who have the paint – are not taking them up on their offer. 

I was told many people enter the river intentionally, not accidentally, and don’t realise at all of the hazards and dangers.

The river is flowing 5-10 miles an hour and the average swimmer can swim 3 miles an hour for just 30 seconds. 

King’s Staith, for example – what looks like an idyllic spot to swim in during the summer – has a fierce current that takes you out, rather than bringing you back in, making it very hard to return to shore. People put their own lives at risk for pointless challenges or dares. 

York Rescue Boat also work closely with all the pubs along the river training them to use ‘throw ropes’  – a lighter version of lifebuoy rings – which even a 6 year old could throw 12 or so metres.


The organisation now has 29 operational volunteers, 15 fundraisers with 24 more being trained. They continually train and update their knowledge.

They are a totally voluntary organisation and receive no money from the council or the government. They say the people of York are incredibly generous  – both in fundraising and supporting them.

Last year they clocked up 10,500 volunteer operational hours which is the equivalent of £86k of costs  – not including admin, fundraising or marketing. 


What can we take from knowing more about York Boat Rescue? There are three things that could improve the safety for all:


Firstly, if any organisation would like an educational presentation on preventing river incidents, get in touch directly with Dave. They do regular Freshers Fairs, Schools, Scout groups and the Army, but have the capacity to do more. Email them


Secondly, if anyone has the time to volunteer – either operationally, foot patrol or fundraising – they would love to have you. Email them


Throughout March, York Rescue Boat are inviting local organising to get involved with a big fundraising push and to ‘Go Orange’. Why not get your school involved and hold a non-uniform day? Get your office team to wear something orange? Hold a bake sale? Challenge yourself with a sponsored run, walk or swim? The options are endless.

Request a free fundraising pack


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