THREE fishermen had a lucky escape after their boat capsized last night.

The three men first noticed an issue when their 13 meter scalloper began to lean to one side at around 8pm yesterday evening, before they had time to radio for help the boat had capsized and the fishermen found themselves in the water.

Within minutes all that was visible of the vessel was the hull (the underside of the boat) which the three men managed to clamber aboard.

The men held on for over two and a half hours as the boat continued to slowly sink, fearing for their lives.

As the pressure within the boat increased this triggered the emergency life raft to release and in turn sent a mayday distress call from the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or EPIRB which was fitted to the raft.

At this point the three men had to re enter the water to climb into life raft, at the same time the beacon automatically alerted the coastguard.

The men were able to fire the flares stored aboard the life raft, in order to help nearby vessels locate them.

The Coastguard launched a rescue helicopter and paged Whitby RNLI who launched the all-weather lifeboat at around 11pm.

With the three men on a small life raft 76 nautical mile north east of Whitby it would take over three hours to reach them, the Coastguard sent mayday signals to all nearby boats and one was able to reach the three men and remove them from the water.

Shortly after the Coastguard helicopter arrived and a paramedic was winched down to the three men aboard the fishing vessel that had rescued them.

They were checked over and were well enough to not need to be airlifted to hospital.

Whitby's RNLI crew arrived on the scene in the early hours of Sunday morning and transferred the casualties onto the all-weather lifeboat.

As the sun rose over the water the volunteer crew made the three hour journey back to Whitby harbour with the three men aboard.

The lifeboat returned to station at around 7am this morning.

Richard Dowson, Station Mechanic at Whitby RNLI who attended the rescue said: "When you get a call to an EPIRB who don't know what to expect, you know it is a serious emergency.

"These three men had a very lucky escape and we send our thanks to the fishing vessel that answered the Mayday call and retrieved them from the life raft."

The men showed great bravery managing to get out of the water and onto the hull of the boat, not knowing when help would arrive.

"Luckily the life raft had the beacon fitted which alerted the emergency services with an exact location, or the outcome would have been very different.

"Their was nothing the three men could have done to prevent the rapid sinking of their fishing vessel, and we are sad for them that they have lost their livelihood but the main thing is they have come away with their lives."