Call for boat users to always wear life jackets following drownings

Lough Erne boating victim named locally as mother of two Luna McKinney (35)

The boat involved in the Lough Erne tragedy moored at the rear of Devenish Island along with a police boat. Photograph: Ronan McGrade/Pacemaker

The boat involved in the Lough Erne tragedy moored at the rear of Devenish Island along with a police boat. Photograph: Ronan McGrade/Pacemaker


Holidaymakers using cruise boats and barges on Irish waters have been urged to wear life jackets and read rental safety guidelines following three drownings in recent weeks.

A woman in her 30s died in the early hours of Thursday after falling from a cruise boat in Lough Erne, while a couple who had hired a boat on the Shannon drowned two weeks ago in Carrick-on-Shannon.

The victim of the Lough Erne tragedy has been named locally as mother of two Luna McKinney (35), from the Co Donegal village of Convoy.

It is understood she was checking the vessel was securely tied to the jetty before going to bed, just after 1 am, when she slipped and fell into the water.

Her husband, Stephen McKinney, heard her falling and dived into the waters of Lough Erne but was unable to find her and he alerted emergency services.

Ms McKinney was originally from China, and the couple and their children regularly travelled there to visit her extended family.

Irish Water Safety chief executive John Leech said life jackets were essential for all boat users and that these “tragic accidents” could be avoided if people always wore the jackets on board.

Speaking about the risks in general rather than the circumstances surrounding the recent deaths, Mr Leech said that despite instructions and guidance from boat hire companies, many of those renting failed to pay attention to the safety guidelines provided.

Automatic jacket dangers

He stressed that holidaymakers should make use of life jackets provided by the rental companies as opposed to using automatic inflatable jackets.

“Automatically inflatable life jackets are like a parachute. If they’re not checked regularly, serviced annually and fitted properly, you will drown in them.”

A recent Irish Water Safety and Royal National Lifeboat Institution review of auto-inflatable jackets found that 68 per cent were “dysfunctional”. “We want to steer people away from these and use the straight-forward buoyancy aids.”

Mr Leech also noted that 30 per cent of all drowning victims had consumed alcohol, and advised boat users to take extra care when returning to the vessel after dinner and drinks at the marina.

“People go on the Shannon on their holidays and we don’t want to interfere with that. But we are really asking people to wear their life jacket after they go ashore and have been drinking.”

Boat maintenance

Neill Ireland from the RNLI said boat owners must take special care to maintain their boats as well as wearing life jackets.

“Boats are like cars, they need to be serviced regularly to make sure nothing is wrong.”

Mr Ireland is the local operations manager with the Enniskillen branch of the RNLI and was part of the team that responded to the emergency call on Lough Erne on Thursday.

“The problem is this ‘it will never happen to me attitude’. It’s incredible how many people don’t wear life jackets.

“You must respect the water and realise it has dangers. Wear your jackets, supervise your children and keep your speed down when you’re in power boats and always think of the others around you.”