The Government has been warned of the risks of an increase in drownings in the next few weeks during an easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
Water Safety Ireland chief executive John Leech has expressed concern about the risks if weather is good before lifeguards are in place on beaches, and when water temperatures are still relatively low.
There is also some concern among commercial providers of outdoor adventure activities about the timing of safe resumption.
“Cold-water shock is a serious risk for people who have not been swimming on the sea or inland since last summer, and who haven’t been able to access a swimming pool,” Mr Leech said, pointing out that almost two million people living within 5km of the coastline, and many others live close to rivers and lakes.
“The last thing we want is to restrict people, but we are going to have the greatest number on the water in our history over the next few weeks, as they cannot go abroad and many have lost their jobs,” he said.
The Government has sanctioned re-opening of “outdoor public amenities and tourism sites, such as car parks, beaches and mountain walks” as part of phase one from Monday.
The Irish Coast Guard has also lifted its advisory on staying off the water and thanked the public for its co-operation, but cautioning that “the current 2x5 rule, as in two-metre physical distance and five km travel distance” remains in place.
Marinas, sailing and kayaking clubs are re-opening under advice issued by national sport governing bodies including the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) and Canoeing Ireland in line with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Covid-19 guidelines.
Activities such as kayaking in groups of up to four are being advertised as and from Monday by several providers, including Inish Adventures in Moville, Co Donegal.
“We are restricting to groups of four, all equipment will be sanitised, there will be social distancing and we are staying within the two loughs of Swilly and Foyle,” Adrian Harkin of Inish Adventures said. “We have received approval from our local Irish Coast Guard and from Canoeing Ireland.”
Mr Harkin said that he had erected marquees and outdoor showers as part of his preparation.
“I’ve never had so many inquiries from people to buy kayaks, and to be honest I’d prefer to see them going out with qualified instructors rather than taking risks on their own,” he said.
Canoeing Ireland chief executive Moira Aston said it has published return to sport protocols for its members and clubs.
“While we don’t have a regulatory function in relation to the commercial sector, we sincerely hope that everyone behaves responsibly, observes all guidelines, legislation and safety protocols and allows for further easing of restrictions,” she said.
She said she was aware that commercial operators had drawn up their own procedures which appeared to be in line with HSE guidelines. Canoeing Ireland would “not endorse any individual or organisation operating outside of our protocols”, she stressed.
“Kayaking is in a great position to be out there, but we are dipping our toe in the water,” she said.
In Galway, harbourmaster Capt Brian Sheridan confirmed public slipways and the marina would re-open under the guidelines, with a medical disclaimer required for use of the crane in launching craft.