IT was a night-time prank that put lives at risk. Two drunk men sparked a major rescue operation when they went skinny-dipping in Southampton Water.

They stripped off and jumped into the cold sea off Town Quay.

Police, coastguard officers, lifeboat crews and paramedics were all involved in the search for the pair.

Then they were so intoxicated they told police their friend was still missing – sparking a second search – but he was later found safe in a city centre hotel.

Today rescuers spoke of their anger at the men’s behaviour which they described as “downright stupid”.

Fred Kaygill, of the Southampton-based Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: “It just beggars belief.

“The actions of these two men is not just dangerous but downright stupid. To enter any water at any time in a commercially operated area is putting their own lives at risk and other people’s too.

“But to enter the water at night and while under the influence of substance is doubly stupid.

“In the water their heads would look like footballs and that is in daylight. I very much doubt they would be seen from a commercially operated vessel at night.

“Let’s hope they have learnt from their lesson.”

Location of the incident

Southampton’s harbour master Martin Phipps said the sea temperature was 18C (64F) and described the act as “silly” adding that to get in the path of ships and yachts is “asking to be run down”.

Police recovered the two piles of clothing and the duo were treated by paramedics at the scene for “effects of the cold” before one of them was rushed to Southampton General Hospital with signs of mild hypothermia.

Officers were called to the waterside at about 4.30am yesterday after a member of the public called 999 after seeing the nude swimmers taking a dip near the Red Jet terminal.

Solent coastguard said they got a call from police who then paged two crews from Calshot lifeboat.

However, the RNLI volunteers were stood down after getting another call to say that the two men had been rescued from the harbour.

But when the skinny-dippers began to talk about a third man in the sea, they were called for the second time but then stood down again when police found he was elsewhere in the city.

Red Funnel master Stuart Tan said that the pair were swimming around one of the company’s boats and the crew could not start the engines until they were 100 per cent sure that the men were out of the water.