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'Sea Change' Water Safety Stats No Excuse For 'Draconian' Regulations

16th April 2015
'Sea Change' Water Safety Stats No Excuse For 'Draconian' Regulations

#WaterSafety - The Government's 'Sea Change' consultation contained sobering statistics on boating fatalities in Irish waters, prompting calls for much tighter water safety regulation. But as Irish Cruising Club spokesman and Sailing Directions Editor Norman Kean writes, that view is not shared by all in the marine sector...

In June 2014, the Department of Transport issued a consultation document titled 'Sea Change', in which it was alleged that over an 11-year period, 66 fatalities had occurred on recreational craft. This represents 47% of all marine fatalities in the period, and the figure was widely and sometimes sensationally reported.

In light of that, it's worth examining the following extracts from the Irish Cruising Club's (ICC) submission to the department, which reflects an independent study of the original Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) reports:

The MCIB reports for the period 2002 to 2012 describe 42 incidents involving craft other than licensed commercial or fishing vessels. Presumably these are classified, by default, as leisure-related. These 42 incidents resulted in 51 deaths. We believe it is significant and worthwhile to note that 28 of these fatalities (55%) occurred when the purpose was not recreational boating per se. Twenty-two people lost their lives while out fishing, five while ferrying or as passengers, and one on a hunting trip by boat. The remaining 23 comprised eight kayakers/canoeists, three jet-skiers, five sailing and seven power-boating, each activity in these 23 cases being carried out for its own sake.

There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that of the 22 'recreational' fishing casualties, at least 10 may have actually been out for commercial purposes. The same applies to at least two of the 'ferrying' category. We have knowledgeable independent support for that view.

Sixteen casualties, including the eight kayakers, lost their lives in rivers or lakes, and 35 in tidal water.

Sixteen of the 51 deaths occurred between November and April, not a time of year normally associated with recreational boating.

Most incidents involved small open boats; all but five vessels were under seven metres in length. One of those five was a 7.3-metre undecked gleoiteog.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is that in 32 cases, lifejackets were inaccessible, faulty or badly adjusted, or not worn when they clearly should have been. This, and much else described in the MCIB reports, indicate a disturbing recklessness and lack of awareness on the part of the casualties and their companions.

The discrepancy between the figure of 51 deaths investigated by the MCIB and 66 quoted in the consultation document presumably reflects the inclusion of diving, surfing and sailboarding casualties as 'recreational craft' accidents. These do not fall within the remit of the MCIB, for a good reason: diving is a specialised skill, and accidents seldom if ever have anything to do with the operation or actions of the boat; while a surfboard is not a boat.

The submission also goes on to say that "almost every one of the [nine contributory causes listed in the consultation document] is in turn a result of the above-mentioned lack of awareness, and... if that lack could be adequately addressed, many issues like 'failure to plan journeys safely' and 'vessel unseaworthy, unstable and/or overloaded' would simply no longer arise. This is the commonplace observation of every skilled and experienced recreational sailor; we see it all the time."

Our point was – of course - that the representation of recreational sailing as being particularly hazardous was a grossly unfair interpretation of the statistics.

The ICC was the only yacht club in Ireland to respond (the ISA also sent in a submission) and the RNLI was the only other organisation not to take the department's figures at face value. There were 36 submissions in total, many of them from professional organisations such as the Harbourmasters, the Irish Lights, the Naval Service, the Irish Coast Guard and the Institute of Master Mariners. Almost without exception these bodies and individuals wanted leisure craft and their crews to be highly regulated, sometimes to an utterly draconian extent.

In general, none of their recommendations would have the slightest effect on accident rates or consequences unless implemented with a zeal worthy of the Taliban. What they would undoubtedly do is make life easier and less stressful for the watch officer on the bridge of a ship or in the coastguard station, which one can well understand.

It is worthy of note that the RNLI and Irish Water Safety shared our view that education was preferable to regulation.

Published in Your Say Team

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