NINE canoeists were lucky to escape unscathed after a sightseeing trip turned into a dramatic sea rescue at the weekend.

Coastguard officers, two passing boats and both of Swanage's RNLI lifeboats were involved in the rescue, which took place off Old Harry Rocks, near Studland, after a six-man canoe capsized in “difficult sea conditions.”

All six people onboard were initially rescued from the water by the passing dive boat, Skua, which also raised the alarm. The RNLI also assisted one of two other three-man canoes, believed to be part of the same party.

The coastguard has since issued a stark warning, after it emerged the canoeists - who were not locals - had set off without the necessary safety gear.

Those involved had no way to raise the alarm and were "fortunate" to be spotted by the Skua crew, Portland Coastguard explained.

Ian Brown, of Swanage Coastguard, said: “It is really sad that people are not taking those extra steps to ensure they remain safe. If the local dive boat skipper, who is well switched on, hadn't spotted them this could have been very, very nasty.

“With that amount of people involved, it was worrying. You could easily get people disappearing, the water is not warm and there is a bitter wind.”

After spotting the canoeists in danger, around 4.30pm on Saturday (May 3), the dive boat sent a mayday distress call. It was quickly joined by another nearby boat, Playtime, and both the inshore and all weather Swanage RNLI lifeboats.

Dave Laut, who was piloting Skua, said: “The biggest kayak was almost Hawaiian-style - I've not seen something like that before.

“We were out on a dive when I saw the boats at Old Harry. I just noticed something a bit different - I thought to myself, 'That doesn't look right'. When we went over, we could see that the larger kayak had turned over and six people were in the water.”

He took the six on board, and said they were “shivering” with the cold.

“The sea temperature was about 10 degrees, and when you've got wind chill as well, you don't want to be in the water without a wetsuit for long.”

Portland Coastguard watch manager Ros Evans said: "The 12 canoeists were out in difficult weather conditions.

"They were dressed only in shorts and t-shirts. They were wearing buoyancy aids but appeared to have no other safety gear, no rescue equipment and most worryingly, no way of raising the alarm.”

An RNLI spokesman said: “Once at Knoll Beach all the casualties were landed ashore. In total, nine persons were assisted and three more made their own way back to Studland, where they were reunited with their boats and met by the Swanage Coastguard."