A couple rescued Sunday night after swimming alongside their powerless boat to get it to land have man's best friend to thank for keeping them warm while they waited for help.
After a two-hour search, volunteers with Beaufort Water Search & Rescue Squad found the wet, shivering pair huddled on the boat with a chocolate Labrador retriever.
The warmth from the dog might have protected them from hypothermia, said squad spokesman Dick Jennings.
The man and woman told rescuers they had been on the water all day collecting clams. Their boat ran out of gas in the dark.
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Rather than let the 17-foot boat drift out to sea, they jumped into 56-degree water and towed the boat while swimming alongside until it ran aground, Jennings said. They didn't know where they were when they called 911 at about 9 p.m.
The couple and the Lab were found by rescuers in the stranded boat at midnight in Trenchards Inlet, between St. Helena Island and Pritchards Island in northern Beaufort County.
"That had to be one chilly swim," Jennings said.
The man and woman had launched from Station Creek Landing on St. Helena Island, where rescuers also launched two search boats at around 10 p.m. About 12 volunteers participated in the search or were on standby during the rescue, Jennings said.
The two rescue boats cruised "every river and creek," Jennings said. The rescuers eventually found them far from where they had described their location, he added.
Rescuers provided blankets for the woman while taking her back to Station Creek, where deputies with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and firefighters were waiting. The man stayed on his boat with the dog while rescuers towed it ashore, Jennings said.
Emergency responders warmed up the man and woman in an ambulance with special suits, while rescuers helped load the boat onto a trailer, completing the operation at about 1 a.m.
While the pair were being treated, they lost track of the dog. That triggered another -- but thankfully much shorter -- search.
"The dog was in a deputy's car keeping warm," Jennings said.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.