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Crowds gathered recently at Bangor Marina on Belfast Lough for the second open evening to be held by the charity Safer Waters.

Safer Waters is a unique service in Northern Ireland, established in 2020 to provide a Safety Boat service for water-based community events. The service supports events such as sailing, swimming, paddle boarding and windsurfing that have no safety cover of their own or may need additional resources. It will also supplement sailing clubs in events where multiple safety cover is required, such as the huge Irish Youth Sailing Championships at Ballyholme in April, where Safer Waters provided six safety boats.

Although it is Bangor Marina based, the volunteers will serve all communities by travelling by sea and road to coastal or inland water locations.

Safer Waters Mike Meharg (right) with l to r Robin Gordon Training Officer, Johnathan Mitchell Rostering Officer, George King, Vice Commodore, and Karen Dugan SecretarySafer Waters Mike Meharg (right) with l to r Robin Gordon Training Officer, Johnathan Mitchell Rostering Officer, George King, Vice Commodore, and Karen Dugan Secretary

Using the Open Evening as a recruitment drive was a successful move as from those who attended three have decided to join and two more look possible.

Commodore Mike Meharg, whose day job is a long-haul pilot, explained that there are tasks other than manning the safety boats, such as beachmaster for events, and helping with Risk Assessments and other safety-related issues.

Safer Waters is an RYA Regional Training Centre (RTC) running courses such as Powerboat Level 1 through to Yachtmaster Offshore.

At the moment Safer Waters uses RIBs owned by members as grant aid for new craft is a slow process. One way money can be raised for the charity is through www.smile.amazon.com where a percentage of purchase costs go to Safer Waters.

Mike Meharg was delighted with the response, “This evening’s Safer Waters Open meeting was an opportunity to meet people and raise awareness of who we are and what we do. As well as an introduction to our organisation, our visitors experienced a run to Helen’s Bay along the coast from Bangor in a 300 horsepower RIB and even had a go driving it under an instructor’s supervision. A memorable evening for all concerned and one that hopefully raised our profile and gained us a few new members”.

The next Open Evening will be on Wednesday, 25th May at Bangor Marina, meeting outside the gates.

Published in Rescue

Safer Waters is a unique service in Northern Ireland, established in 2020 to provide a Safety Boat service for water-based community events. The service is there to support events such as Sailing, Swimming, Paddle Boarding and Windsurfing that have no safety cover of their own or may need additional resources. Safer Waters is based in Bangor Marina and serves all communities as they will travel by sea and road to any coastal or inland location.

With several big event commitments this year, such as the Irish Youth Sailing Championships in April at Ballyholme Yacht Club and rescue and mark laying for Bangor Town Regatta in June hosted by Royal Ulster, Safer Waters is currently looking for members to join the dynamic team, both on and off the water.

Mike Meharg who heads up the organisation says he is already getting calls for event coverage this year. “Following a very busy and successful first year of operations during which we supported over nine hundred participants on the water we are receiving calls already. To help meet these commitments we could do with more members to crew our boats as well as provide shore support and communications. If you would like to try something exciting and a bit different, why not get in touch and we will take you through what we do. We can provide formal training through our RYA recognised Training Centre in Bangor Marina as well as free in-house training – all are welcome. Please visit the link below or message us if you are unsure of how you could help. You are welcome to come along and meet us at one of our training evenings”.

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Last year Mike Meharg, George King and Allan Black set up Safer Waters, now a registered charity and not-for-profit provider of voluntary safety cover and training for recreational water users in Northern Ireland. It is a recognised RYA Training Centre based in Bangor Marina.

Clients include sailors, windsurfers, kayakers, paddle boarders and sea swimmers, with priority given to cover for community groups that lack safety resources of their own. There is no charge for the service, other than direct running costs such as fuel and travel expenses. Safer Waters provides cover for events throughout Northern Ireland, travelling by road or sea as necessary.

The volunteers have about two hundred years of combined practical experience of providing safety and rescue cover at sailing events throughout Belfast Lough. In this time of rapidly growing participation in community recreational water use, it serves a useful role in allowing people to participate in their chosen activities safely. Very often clubs running large events are short on safety cover and this is where Safer Waters can step in. Despite covid restrictions, in Belfast Lough the group has in the last month attended six events, involving some 450 participants.

Safer Waters attended the Irish Laser Class dinghy event at Ballyholme YCSafer Waters attended the Irish Laser Class dinghy event at Ballyholme YC

Its proactive approach to safety and training means less reliance on blue light services such as the RNLI and Coastguard being called out as a last resort when things go wrong. Currently four safety boats are available, but it is hoped that within the year this number will be increased. Funding is sourced entirely by membership and donations, but to enable further growth and service coverage the organization is actively seeking sponsorship or grant funding.

Safer Waters at Carrickfergus MarinaSafer Waters at Carrickfergus Marina

Safer Waters Commodore Mike Meharg is enthusiastic about the charity; "Safer Waters is a charitable community group, set up to provide proactive and trained safety cover for all water users at minimum cost, by people who are passionate about their boating and enjoy a purpose on the water. We like assisting others to enjoy their time on the water".

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Whether you're a boat enthusiast, historian, archaeologist, fisherman, or just taken by the natural beauty of Ireland's waterways, you will find something of interest in our Inland pages on Afloat.ie.

Inland Waterways

Ireland is lucky to have a wealth of river systems and canals crossing the country that, while once vital for transporting goods, are today equally as important for angling, recreational boating and of course tourism.

From the Barrow Navigation to the Erne System, the Grand Canal, the Lower Bann, the Royal Canal, the Shannon-Erne Waterway and the Shannon Navigation, these inland waterways are popular year in, year out for anyone with an interest in rambling; flora and fauna; fishing; sailing; motorboating; canoeing, kayaking and waterskiing; and cruising on narrowboats.

Although most will surely identify Ireland's inland waterways with boating holidays and a peaceful afternoon's angling, many varieties of watersport are increasingly favoured activities. Powerboat and Jetski courses abound, as do opportunities for waterskiing or wakeboarding. For those who don't require engine power, there's canoeing and kayaking, as Ireland's waterways have much to offer both recreational paddlers and those looking for more of a challenge. And when it comes to more sedate activities, there's nothing like going for a walk along a canal or river bank following some of the long-distance Waymarked Ways or Slí na Sláinte paths that criss-cross the country.

Ireland's network of rivers, lakes and canals is maintained by Waterways Ireland, which is one of the six North/South Implementation Bodies established under the British-Irish Agreement in 1999. The body has responsibility for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of inland navigable waterways on the island of Ireland, principally for recreational purposes. It also maintains Ireland's loughs, lakes and channels which are sought after for sailing; the network of canal locks and tow paths; as well as any buoys, bridges and harbours along the routes.

Along the Grand and Royal Canals and sections of the Barrow Navigation and the Shannon-Erne Waterway, Waterways Ireland is also responsible for angling activities, and charges Inland Fisheries Ireland with carrying out fisheries development, weed management and ensuring water quality.

Brian Goggin's Inland Blog

Giving his personal perspective on Ireland's Inland Waterways from present-day activities to their rich heritage, Brian Goggin tells it like it is with his Inland Blog.

From recognising achievements in management of the waterways to his worries on the costs of getting afloat on Ireland's canals, Goggin always has something important to say.

He also maintains the website Irish Waterways History that serves as a repository for a wealth of historical accounts of the past commercial and social uses alike of Ireland's rivers and canals, which were once the lifeblood of many a rural community.