A sailor awaits rescue by a Coast Guard helicopter 60 miles off Virginia as his sailboat burns nearby. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City.

PHOTOS: Man Rescued, Forced to Abandon Burning Sailboat off VA Eastern Shore

A 58-year-old man is safe after a terrifying situation dozens of miles off the coast of Virginia.

The man was aboard the 45-foot sailboat Trilogy just before the holiday weekend, making a passage from the Bahamas to New Jersey. Sadly, Trilogy would not make it back to the East Coast. The Coast Guard says the sailboat caught fire nearly 60 miles east of Chincoteague.

The sailor had to abandon Trilogy and climb into a 9-foot inflatable dinghy, using it as a life raft as the sailboat burned nearby. Thankfully, he had a properly registered EPIRB aboard the boat and was able to use it to get help from the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard watchstanders received a 406-megahertz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (also known as an EPIRB) around 8:30 p.m. Thursday and launched an HC-130 Hercules airplane crew and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City. The Coast Guard also issued an Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue alert.

The Hercules crew arrived around at 10:10 p.m. and spotted the man aboard his dinghy. The Trilogy was still on fire.

A half hour later, the helicopter crew arrived to hoist the man to safety. They safely brought him from the life raft into the helicopter.

A MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew hoists the 58-year-old mariner from a dinghy. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City.

He reported no major injuries but was flown to a Norfolk hospital to be checked out.

The Coast Guard says the sailor took the proper steps to prepare for an emergency, and that made all the difference in his safe rescue. Only an hour and 40 minutes passed from the time the boat’s EPIRB activated until the first USCG crew reached him 60 miles offshore.

Having a life raft to safely evacuate to kept the boater safer than if he’d tried to remain on the burning sailboat or try his luck in the water. And there’s more:

“This mariner also had filed a float plan with a family member, which the Coast Guard always recommends you do even for short day trips. He also had an immersion suit, which he had put on prior to getting in the dinghy. All these actions and planning for a maritime emergency helped save his life,” says Lt. j.g. Erin Bellen, search and rescue operations unit controller with the Coast Guard Fifth District.

Whether you’re making an offshore passage from the islands or just boating on the Bay’s tributaries, the Coast Guard reminds you to wear a life jacket and make sure it’s in good condition and is the right size for you. In a staggering statistic, 85 percent of boaters who drowned in documented accidents were not wearing life preservers. Always take a marine (VHF-FM) radio. You never know when unreliable cell service or a dead cell phone battery could arise.