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MCIB Criticises "General Safety Environment" Around Paddlesports in Mulroy Bay Report

19th May 2023

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) has criticised the “general safety environment around paddlesports in Ireland” which it has identified as a “systemic factor” in a serious incident involving kayakers in Donegal’s Mulroy Bay last year.

A group of six kayakers were rescued in the tidal sea lough on March 19th, 2022, but the MCIB has classified the event as one that “posed a threat of death or serious injury”.

It has identified a combination of “causal and contributory factors”, including unsuitable weather conditions; inadequate training and qualifications; inadequate trip and contingency planning; inadequate safety equipment; inadequate protective clothing; and an inadequate safety environment.

This incident occurred during a commercial, guided trip, involving a trip organiser and five clients, which was intended to be about three kilometres and involved crossing the sea lough.

The clients were adults who typically had little or no kayaking experience. Only one client wore a wetsuit as thermal protection against the effects of cold water immersion, while the others wore clothing such as jeans and winter coats, the report says.

It says the group got into difficulty when the wind speed increased and the sea state deteriorated. The double kayak capsized but its two clients were able to right the kayak and make their way to one side of the lough.

Another two clients, in single kayaks, separately made their own way to the other side of the lough, after one of them capsized and swam for about 20 minutes to reach the shore.

The remaining client and the organiser both capsized and lost contact with their kayaks. They drifted in the water for approximately one hour, isolated about mid-way across the lough, until they were rescued by the Irish Coast Guard.

The report says they required hospital treatment before being released later that day.

“This rescue only became possible because of the diligent actions of a member of the public, who saw people in the water and notified the emergency service,”it says.

The report says the trip organiser’s training was primarily in seamanship skills for the crew of a ship, which he undertook about seven years ago, followed then by about one year working offshore as a crewmember on a commercial fishing boat.

It says he had attended a three day first aid course about nine months before this incident. He had the Level 2 Kayak Skills Award from Canoeing Ireland (CI), which he had received about nine months before this incident.

It quotes the organiser’s website, which stated that “we are an experienced team and we are all certified kayaking instructors that will take you on an amazing kayaking trip in any of the locations we operate in”.

“However, the MCIB’s investigation identified how the trip organiser is not the holder of a kayaking instructor qualification from either CI or any other national governing body,”the report says.

It also says the organiser had no formal training in the planning or navigation of kayaking trips, such as the Essential Coastal Navigation award from CI, and no formal training in the methods of rescuing kayaks or capsized kayakers, or the management of kayaking incidents.

A participant who booked the trip told the organiser that they had all kayaked before and that they could all swim.

The report says that “when the trip commenced he found out that most of them had little or no kayaking experience, and that one of them could not swim”.

It said the organiser did not operate a process of a written questionnaire or forms to be completed by participants in advance of a booking, such as those describing their swimming ability, kayaking experience or details of health or medical conditions.

On the day of the trip, a small craft warning was in effect for all Irish coastal areas, meaning that winds of at least force 6 were expected.

All of the group were provided with correct personal flotation devices, it says.

It says the trip organiser had a mobile phone placed within the pocket of his raincoat, which became inoperable when exposed to water after he capsized and entered the water.

He had a first aid kit stowed in his kayak but did not have a phone in a waterproof pouch, and did not have recommended safety equipment, as outlined in the Code of Practice for the Safe Operation of Recreational Craft, such as a VHF radio; Personal Locator Beacon (PLB); signalling flares; spray deck; tow rope; or emergency shelter.

The report says the alarm was raised by a member of the public who has lived in the area for many years and had kayaked on this sea lough many times before.

“She had considered going out kayaking on the day of this incident but had dismissed this idea because it was too windy. Her experience is that the lough is generally safe for kayaking, but it has a noticeable tide, and the weather needs to be calm for kayaking to take place safely,”it states.

The MCIB report makes a number of recommendations, and notes that it has investigated a number of kayaking and canoeing incidents at sea and on inland waters since 2007, as a result of which eight fatalities occurred.

It lists the kayaking/canoeing incidents are as follows:

  1. MCIB 155 – Gaddagh River, 2007.
  2. MCIB 180 – Clodagh River, 2010.
  3. MCIB 241 – Inchavore River, 2014.
  4. MCIB 275 – River Suir, 2017.
  5. MCIB 283 – Roughty River, 2018.
  6. MCIB 285 – Lough Gill, 2019.
  7. MCIB 296 – Caragh River, 2019.

It says that the circumstances of the above kayaking incidents have some common features in that incidents occurred in winter or spring months, which has implications for cold water shock and the onset of hypothermia.

It also found common features such as:

  • skills levels of the kayaker/instructor not being sufficient for the type of water conditions;
  • mixed ability groups do not have sufficiently qualified leaders/instructors;
  • incidents occurred during the latter half of the excursion.

The MCIB says its annual reports for 2020 and 2021 strongly encouraged all organisations (especially clubs and commercial entities) associated with water sports and water recreational activities to audit their safety systems, and to have regard to the Code of Practice for the Safe Operation of Recreational Craft and all guidelines or recommendations issued by any governing sports bodies.

It says it made recommendations in 2021, including :

  • The establishment of a directory of commercial providers of coastal sea and river paddle facilities;
  • How best to enhance safety sHow best to enhance safety standards within the commercial paddlesports provider sector;
  • A mandatory registration or licensing scheme of instructors and their qualifications.

The report says it is” disappointing to note that the MCIB continues to be advised of situations where little or no regard was paid to governing body safety guidelines”.

“The MCIB has observed a continuing increase in the number of very serious incidents involving paddlesports, some of which could very easily have led to fatalities,” it says.

The full MCIB report is here

Published in MCIB, Canoeing, Kayaking
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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