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Ireland is a Leader in Use of Lifejackets in Spite of Unenforceable Legislation

29th August 2021
Ireland is still at the top of the league table in lifejacket use, according to Water Safety Ireland (WSI) chief executive John Leech
Ireland is still at the top of the league table in lifejacket use, according to Water Safety Ireland (WSI) chief executive John Leech (above)

Irish people are more likely to take water safety seriously if it doesn’t involve obeying a law.

As The Sunday Independent reports, almost two decades after wearing a lifejacket first became compulsory in Ireland, legislation has proved so unenforceable that there have only been a handful of prosecutions.

However, Ireland is still at the top of the league table in lifejacket use, according to Water Safety Ireland (WSI) chief executive John Leech.

Educational campaigns, rather than legislation, may be the main reason for compliance at an average of over 80 per cent, Leech says.

Wearing lifejackets on the decks of fishing vessels became law in 2002 under a statutory instrument introduced by former Fianna Fáíl marine minister Frank Fahey.

Children up to the age of 16 years on mechanically-propelled pleasure craft, jetski operators and certain categories of commercial passenger boats were also covered by the initial legislation.

However, in 2003, then marine minister Dermot Ahern said that he would be extending mandatory wearing of lifejackets to everyone except surfers and oars people involved in competitive rowing.

The previous year, five people lost their lives in the Pisces angling boat accident off Fethard-on-Sea, Co Wexford. None of the victims had been wearing any sort of flotation device.

When the Pleasure Craft (Personnel Flotation Devices and Operation( Safety) Regulations came into effect in 2005, the Garda were automatically empowered to implement them, and other officers could be authorised by the relevant minister and other bodies including a harbour authority.

The 2005 regulations required that there must be suitable PFDs/lifejackets for everyone on board any pleasure craft of any length.

The regulations also required that PFDs must be worn by anyone on board an open craft or on the deck of a craft under seven metres (23 ft) in length and anyone under 16 years of age on any craft.

In addition, users of skis, donuts and jetskis were required to wear them.

The fine was fixed at 150 euro, and the only exceptions were made for divers, swimmers from a stationary vessel, or for those on board a vessel tied up alongside or made fast to an anchor, marina, pier or mooring.

However, legal experts warned that the regulations would be unenforceable without resources.

The Garda Press Office said that since 2006 there have been five incidents recorded under the Merchant Shipping Act relating to the “non-wearing of life vests”.

“Legislation is important, but education has proved to be more effective,” Leech said.

“This water safety awareness now starts in pre-schools, and is already well established in Irish primary schools,” he said.

Read The Sunday Independent here

Published in Water Safety
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