The Eastbourne lifeboat was called out in treacherous weather conditions at the weekend.
The volunteer RNLI crew were requested by the Coastguard to help a disabled motor cruiser “drifting out of control” near Beachy Head on Saturday evening.
Battling breaking waves and near gale-force winds, the lifeboat rushed to find the 25ft vessel but it was nowhere to be seen.
The search area was expanded, the RNLI said, until finally the stricken boat was found – guided by the beam of a torch being frantically waved by the terrified occupants, two miles offshore and drifting towards Newhaven.
The prevailing sea conditions meant it would have been too dangerous to attempt a tow back to Eastbourne, said the RNLI in a statement, so lifeboat Coxswain Mark Sawyer decided the safest option was to return the cruiser to Newhaven from where it had set out some time earlier.
Once safely in harbour the cold and disorientated casualties were taken into the care of the Newhaven coastguard team.
A spokesperson for the RNLI said, “It later transpired the inexperienced pair had left Newhaven bound for Eastbourne with limited equipment and had managed to call for help on a mobile phone to a family friend who in turn contacted HM Coastguard by dialling 999.
“The only means of determining their position was an app on their phone which only gave an approximate position and could not take account of the strong wind and tide.”
• If you find yourself in trouble at sea, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.