Volunteers from a Cornish lifeboat put their lives at risk last night after being sent out in gale force winds to what is now believed may have been a hoax call.

Penlee Lifeboat was contacted by Falmouth Coastguard at 7.49pm on Thursday, after a faint May Day vhf transmission was heard from what was thought to be a vessel between Land’s End and the Isles of Scilly.

Lifeboat the ‘Ivan Ellen’ was launched under the command of coxswain Patch Harvey and six crew members, who headed south of Land’s End.

Here they began a search in what has been described as poor weather conditions, with “continuous heavy rain, poor visibility, gale force 8 winds from the SW, rough sea and five to six-metre swell.”

Having arrived at 9.15pm and begun their search, Penlee Lifeboat was joined by St Mary’s Lifeboat, which headed west.

Falmouth Packet: The route taken by Penlee Lifeboat over four hoursThe route taken by Penlee Lifeboat over four hours (Image: Penlee Lifeboat)

A spokesperson for Penlee said: “During this time no other May Day transmissions were made and vessels in the area heard nothing, so at around 10.45pm Falmouth Coastguard ended the search and released both lifeboats.”

Penlee Lifeboat arrived back in Newlyn just before midnight, was washed down and made ready for service at 12.30am.

It is now thought that the lifeboats may have been launched under false pretences, with the spokesperson for Penlee spokesperson adding: “Sadly this incident was possibly a hoax.”

Coxswain Patch Harvey said: “No one should ever transmit a May Day if not in serious danger; it will always be treated as a life threatening incident.

“On this occasion two lifeboats were launched with Penlee spending over four hours at sea.”