TWO men who nearly drowned were rescued by a passing yacht off the coast of North Berwick yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.

Matt Gibbons was out in his yacht when he came across the two swimmers, who had got into difficult off the town’s harbour and were later taken to hospital for treatment.

The skipper feared if the men had been in the water for much longer it may have been too late to rescue them.

He said: “I noticed two swimmers by the fairway buoy, as a former RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) lifeguard I noticed something was wrong.

“My crew shouted across to ask if they were okay.

“We didn’t receive an answer, however one of the casualties locked eyes with me, before his head sunk beneath the surface.

“I immediately called 999 for the Coastguard whilst circling back around them and inflating a spare lifejacket to throw to them.

“My crew also threw a line but the casualties were so involved in trying to keep themselves afloat that they initially couldn’t reach for either.

“It was an eye-opening experience considering the safety of land was only 50 or so metres away, I’m thankful we passed when we did.

“A few minutes later and we might have been too late.”

Two off duty members of North Berwick Coastguard Rescue team called 999 when they spotted the two men had swam about 50 metres from the Old Pier and appeared to be in difficulty.

The town’s RNLI volunteers received the call shortly before 5pm.

Fortunately, while the lifeboat was being launched, the passing yacht noticed the pair in distress, called 999 and quickly inflated a spare life jacket and threw it into the water.

They also threw a line to the men but they were initially unable to catch it as they were frantically trying to keep their heads above the surface.

The yacht managed to manoeuvre into a position to get the line to them and drag them aboard.

The two men were landed on the Old Pier as the lifeboat arrived on scene.

First aid was given to the men by shore lifeboat crew prior to being handed over to the ambulance crew and being taken to hospital due to near drowning and hypothermia.

A spokesperson for the RNLI said: “Coastguard team members and the yacht crew both stressed the seriousness of the situation, with the casualties unable to keep their heads above the water.

“Much longer without assistance and they would have drowned.

“The water around our coasts is still dangerously cold and you should think twice before entering the water without a wetsuit, or personal floatation device.

“Never jump straight into deep water.

“Alcohol and the sea do not mix.

“Despite the relative proximity to safety, the cold water caused a dangerous cold water shock response in the casualties who were unable to catch a breath or control their limbs, so were unable to shout for help or keep themselves afloat, finding it difficult to grab hold of the lifejacket or line thrown by the yacht.”

In any coastal emergency dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard.