Help was nearby as boat drifted at sea

A fisherman left adrift when his propeller became tangled had a lucky escape thanks to a lifeboat crew on manoeuvres nearby.

Colin Patterson, 67, had been fishing four miles off the Wearside coast when a blue canvas sack became entwined with his outboard engine.

With a powerful wind steadily pushing his boat out to sea, he needed to act fast to cut the bag free.

But as the only person on board, he would have had to risk falling off the back of the boat if he'd tried to hack through the thick bag with a knife himself.

Luckily, he spotted crew members from Sunderland RNLI on manoeuvres nearby and he radioed for their help.

Mr Patterson said: "I'd been fishing out by the wrecks when I decided to come back in. A canvas-type bag became wrapped around the propeller, so obviously I couldn't go anywhere.

"If I'd tried to cut the canvas bag free myself I could have fallen off the boat, and I'd have had to tie rope around my waist and hope for the best.

"I saw the lifeboats on manoeuvre, and I radioed out and one of them came over.

"One of the guys jumped into the water, and borrowed my fishing knife to cut the bag free."

He said tangled propellers were a common problem at sea but had recently been getting worse.

"The tides bring in all sorts of debris like this, and it's something you've got to watch out for.

"There are lots of lobster pots out at the moment, though, and they can also be a problem."

Mr Patterson, the former vice- commodore of the Wear Boating Association, has owned his boat – a Hardy fast-fisher called the Monarch – for about nine years and moors it at the Sunderland marina.

Paul Nicholson, senior helmsman at the Sunderland RNLI, said: "Four volunteers were out taking part in our weekly training exercises when Colin radioed for assistance.

"He's got an outboard propeller which was good, because if he'd had a fixed propeller it would have made it much more difficult to remove the sack.

"They managed to raise it to water level and cut through the bag. The propeller was checked for any damage but there wasn't any."

He added: "Colin is a well-known face around here and he's done a lot of fund-raising for the RNLI, so the volunteers were more than happy to help out."