Changing the culture to save lives

Safety at sea

 

Half of all deaths around the coast involve pleasure craft. It is a stark figure when you consider that much of this activity takes place in benign conditions by contrast with the stormy weather that fishing and commercial boats have to face. In response to this situation, Minister for Transport Paschal Donohue and the Irish Maritime Administration have adopted a new safety strategy that, hopefully, will reduce the number of fatalities.

During the past 11 years, two-thirds of deaths involving pleasure craft were due to the boats capsizing. Capsizes may have arisen from the use of unseaworthy vessels or other causes but many of the resulting deaths could have been avoided had proper safety equipment been installed and life-jackets worn. Inadequate or unsuitable safety equipment, a lack of training and failures to plan journeys safely have been identified as prime causes of death across all maritime situations.

Like most potentially lethal environments, changing the culture and personal behaviour of those at risk represents the most effective form of action. More robust regulations and frequent inspections by officers from the Irish Maritime Administration will certainly help, but altering the mindsets of those involved is the key.

A change in culture and personal behaviour should be promoted by boat clubs and recreational bodies involved in marine activities. Just as farm organisations are involved in promoting safe practices through talks and demonstrations, so too should their marine equivalents. In that regard, the RNLI already offers a free, one-to-one inspection service for most boats and its expert volunteers deal with concerns about necessary equipment and safety procedures.

As summer approaches and the prospect of “messing about in boats” beckons, individuals have a responsibility to remain safe and not place the lives of emergency and rescue personnel in danger. That holds true for surfers as much as for sailors and power craft users. Along the shoreline, swimmers should take particular care. The sea can be an unforgiving companion.

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