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An investigation into an incident where a party of 15 kayakers encountered difficulties during a round trip from Bulloch harbour to Dalkey island on Dublin Bay last September has found that “disregard for Met Éireann forecasts” contributed to a decision to embark on a “potentially unsafe tour”.

All kayakers returned or were rescued in the incident which occurred on the evening of September 13th, 2020, but one of the kayakers was in the water for 40 minutes and unable to return independently.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) report published yesterday (October 28th) notes that while a small craft warning was not in place earlier that evening, it was in place by the time the group was setting out to sea.

The MCIB says that an” apparent complete disregard” for the instructor training regime run by Canoeing Ireland (CI), the national governing body for kayaking, “seems to have contributed to the decision to embark on a potentially unsafe tour”.

A photo of two canoes ashore at Bulloch Harbour contained in the MCIB reportA photo of two canoes ashore at Bulloch Harbour from the MCIB report

The party of 15 kayakers involved three instructors and 12 participants on a guided kayak coastal trip from Bulloch Harbour to Dalkey Island and back of approximately 2.86 nautical miles.

Both kayaks with cockpits and “sit-on-top” kayaks were used, the report says.

After leaving Bulloch harbour, the kayakers became separated into two groups with a “small group drifting northwards” and a “large group” making its way “(eventually) to the north end of Loreto Convent”.

Three “999” calls alerted the rescue services to the incident, recording "concern on the part of members of the public that the kayakers were struggling”.

The calls said that “some had become separated from the main group and were drifting towards Dublin harbour; that one seemed to have capsized; that a kayaker appeared to be in the water; that the instructors were rushing to assist; that the “small boat” (presumably a reference to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution inshore lifeboat should be sent to assist; and that the kayakers were in trouble”.

One of the kayakers capsized three times. An Irish Coast Guard ((ICG) rescue helicopter, RNLI all weather (ALB) and inshore (ILB) lifeboats and a land-based Irish Coast Guard crew responded, as did the tour organiser who paddled out to bring a group of nine kayakers ashore at Loreto College. However, in emails to the MCIB investigator, the organiser says her concern for the group's safety was "nothing to do with my tour or the conditions".

"It was caused in its entirety by the disruption to their equilibrium with the sudden and unnecessary arrival in our space of the ICG search and rescue helicopter, the RNLI ALB and the ILB lifeboats and the ICG land-based vehicle," she states.

"The approaching tsunami of rescue services swarming around my guests suggested an urgent and imminent danger where none existed," she stated by email.

The investigation was unable to determine the precise level of skills of all instructors, and notes that at least two of the participants did not have sufficient experience for the conditions.

It says “the qualifications ascribed by the organiser’s observations to one or other of the instructors (kayaking level 3 sea skills, kayaking level 4 training and kayaking level 2 instructor) “did not meet the appropriate qualifications recommended by CI for an instructor taking out a group in conditions similar to those which were encountered on the tour”.

The weather report was noted moderate to fresh winds of Beaufort force 4 or 5.

It says the organiser’s observations did not refer to the Code of Practice for safe operation of recreational craft, and the report says “it is reasonable to assume that no regard was had to its contents” and that this contributed to the decision to embark on a “potentially unsafe tour”.

A fisherman who assisted one of the two groups of kayakers recalled that local conditions were such that the combination of an ebb tide with wind from the south/south west had the effect of wind against tide giving rise to “white horses” and a sea swell of approximately 1.5 metre, the report says.

“While this contradicts the data evident from the tidal streams... challenging sea conditions were encountered,” it says.

It says the overall ratio of participants to instructors was in keeping with that identified by CI’s website, namely a ratio of 1:4.

The report says two of the participants indicated that no warnings were given to them that they would become immersed in the water, and that “they were not told what to do in the event of their becoming immersed in the water”.

It says the fisherman “noted that the female kayakers whom he took on board were tired, cold, wet and fatigued and would not have made it ashore on their own”.

The report says that one of these was “in an uncontrolled situation in and out of the water for a period of approximately 40 minutes”.

This participant told the report of feeling “in deep water” shortly after leaving the calm of Bulloch harbour “in the sense that she believed she had no control over the direction of her kayak and that the waves were taking her where they wanted”.

She “recalled being terrified, not being able to speak and having to try to attract the attention of the instructors by waving her hands”.

A big wave flipped her over and her personal flotation device “burst open”, but still remained on her upper body.

She was separated from her kayak for a time, swallowed sea water when swimming back to it, and was “coughing and expending energy” in a bid to keep her head above water, before being assisted.

Two instructors were unsuccessful in addressing the situation, it says, and when the third instructor arrived – leaving the larger group unsupervised, or supervised by the organiser who had to paddle out to them – the kayaker described having to be held in her craft by that instructor.

She was treated by two ambulance paramedics on her arrival back at Bulloch harbour, and recalled they were concerned with the amount of sea water she had swallowed.

The larger group drifted towards rocks, and the organiser paddled out to meet them. The report quotes a participant in this larger group recalling that when they disembarked on the rocks, an Irish Coast Guard officer instructed them to wait where they were, and to get onto a lifeboat which would be along shortly.

“This instruction.... was countermanded by the organiser who instructed them to make their way over the rocks, on foot,” the report states.

The investigation was told that another participant in the large group asked the Irish Coast Guard officer and the organiser “to stop giving conflicting orders as it was confusing”.

“This participant’s recollection was that she would have preferred to follow the directions of the Irish Coast Guard, as she was not happy about climbing over the rocks as she did not have proper footwear and she was anxious and fearful about slipping”.

“According to this participant, the organiser was adamant that the large group should climb over the rocks and the large group duly did so, without incident,” it says.

“They were unable to access a gate through a wall at the top of the rocks and had to make their way around the wall onto other (less slippery) rocks and then onto a flat shore where they were met by the Irish Coast Guard officer,” it says.

It says the organiser took issue with the Irish Coast Guard officer’s use of the word “hypothermia” in a radio report..

The report says that “as no records were made available, it has not been possible to determine what contingency planning was in place”.

It says that the forms signed by any of the participants on the tour were not provided to the investigator.

“According to one participant, she completed a form for her first excursion with the organiser a month previously but did not complete a second for the tour while the other participant does not recall completing any form,” the report says.

“ The form contains a detailed purported waiver of any liability on the part of the organiser. It is not the function of this report to comment on its legal validity,” it says.

The report also notes that “a waiver of liability form is not a substitute for the proper assessment of conditions and participants in a sporting or recreational activity on the water”.

The organiser, who was not one of the instructors, denied that one of the participants was in the water for 40 minutes.

The organiser stated of this participant that “on the 13 September we had a client who was not keen to get back into her kayak and who was feeling tired”.

“She was eventually returned to her kayak with the help of three instructors. If one floats in the sea, the effect of wind and water will carry you somewhere. That is the nature of floating in the sea. It doesn't mean that the conditions were inappropriate,” the organiser said.

The report also quotes the organiser as saying “one woman capsized more than once and needed some convincing to get back into her kayak. I have no wish to embarrass anyone and I don't see the need to say any more other than she was eventually returned to her kayak, and that she was not in the water for 40 minutes, though she was in the water for longer than usual”.

It also says there appears to be no record of any communication over VHF between the tour group and the organiser or instructors, such VHF “traffic” as is recorded on the Irish Coast Guard SITREP and report exchanged between the emergency and rescue services and the fisherman to coordinate the operation.

The report notes several draft reports preceded the final report, and changes were made “where they were warranted”.

It says the organiser detailed her own qualifications, stating “I am a level 4 instructor and hold the highest level skills award which is level 5”. She also said she is a tutor and can train and assess instructors.

It said that the organiser “does not consider regard should be had to CI, as she asserts that the current awards are “not fit for purpose for tour guiding as opposed to providing more in depth instruction”.” It says the organiser stated that a capsize drill is carried out at the harbour, but “no information has been provided as to who gave this instruction for this tour, nor as to what the content was on the date in question”.

It quotes one participant as stating no capsize drill took place.

It says that during the course of the investigation, the organiser of the tour was asked to provide certain records within the meaning of Section 30(1) the 2000 Act and to provide any additional information relating to the incident. It says “no such records or additional information were made available, over and above various statements about the incident made by the organiser in written exchanges in which she raised a number of issues.

The report says that on December 18th, 2020, the organiser wrote to the deputy director of the Irish Coast Guard requesting the “retraction, withdrawal and correction of the IRCG SITREP” for the incident.

The report makes a number of recommendations in relation to more effective delivery of the Code of Practice safety content, and says “consideration should be given to the establishment of a directory of commercial providers of coastal sea and river paddle facilities”.

The report says “consideration should be given to how best to enhance safety standards within the commercial paddlesport provider sector, including whether a mandatory registration or licencing scheme which requires the registration of instructors and their qualifications should be introduced”.

It says “consideration should be given to a mandatory requirement that commercial providers of coastal sea kayaking facilities register in advance with the local Coast Guard to ensure that the rescue services are aware, in advance, of the group’s itinerary, departure and return times, as well as numbers in the group”.

It says mandatory use of suitably licensed VHF radios by commercial providers of coastal sea kayaking facilities should be considered.

It says that CI in conjunction with Sports Ireland should “consider establishing a programme” to facilitate it in “establishing a scheme for the mandatory audit of safety policies and practises in clubs in collaboration with related sport national governing body, and, insofar as it is possible, the audit of instructors in commercial paddlesport providers”.

It says CI should consider “whether a safety audit and compliance system could be developed within its instructor training and registration system so that registered instructors have training in relation to safety requirements including those in the Code of Practice and Marine Notices, and so that CI could better contribute to safety through its regulation of its accreditation and registration system”.

The 240-page report includes lengthy appendices exchanges of communications between the organiser and the investigator. The report is downloadable from the MCIB website here

Published in MCIB
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Kayaking in Ireland has had two new pages added to its history books, with the first medals ever being won in the discipline and Ireland's first-ever European Champion being crowned.

At the recent Championships, held on the 2024 Olympic course in Varies-Sur-Marne, near Paris, David McClure became Irelands first-ever European Champion in Freestyle in the K1 Men division. He sealed his victory with an emphatic win over Joaquim Fontane I Maso, the current World Champion. David, who currently coaches Ireland's next generation of Freestyle athletes, had an ideal set-up for Saturday's final, winning the semi-final and finishing second in the qualification round.

Aoife Hanrahan won a bronze medal in the K1 eventAoife Hanrahan won a bronze medal in the K1 event

In a demonstration of the depth of the Irish team who were competing in Paris, the Championships also saw Ireland's first-ever medal being won in the Women's competition. Aoife Hanrahan, also currently studying for a full-time degree in Pharmacy, won a bronze medal in the K1 event, just behind Poland's Zofia Tula. Aoife had brilliant momentum throughout the entire competition, having qualified in second place from the semi-final.

This championship saw one of the biggest teams Ireland has had at a major international, with 18 athletes competing across the various categories.

Published in Kayaking
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“Stop for a quick apple and orange drink. Paddle on in flat water. Stop for cake and try throwing a lifebelt onto a beach...”

“ Arrive Courtown at about 11.15 to champagne and a congratulations cake reception! A lifetime trip was over....”

Timmy Flavin’s understated diary entry on June 16th, 1991 was recorded after a 942-mile paddle around the coast of Ireland with his fellow kayaker Donal Dowd.

Enduring stinging armpits, swelling fists, cracked lips, missing Raybans, endless storms and unplanned capsizes, the pair set out from Courtown pier, Co Wexford on May 11th, 1991.

After paddling through phosphorescent waters to the Saltee islands, they spent their first night with an orphaned chick in a nestbox provided by the Irish Wildbird Conservancy – as Birdwatch Ireland was then.

The pair paddled an average of just over 31 miles a day until they reached Courtown again four weeks later. The log kept by Flavin - in his best broad Cork accent- has now been published as an illustrated book by his wife Bríd Farrell as a tribute to her late husband’s epic adventure.

Flavin records both indispensable details for the kayaker contemplating a similar circumnavigation, and memories of people that he and Dowd met along the route. As Dowd says, “the ever-changing sea provided us with both tranquillity and white-knuckle fear..”

There are the peaks and troughs of an Atlantic swell, and there is also much humour. Leaving Ballywalter for Annalong, Co Down, on the final leg down the Irish Sea, Flavin reached for his Raybans, couldn’t find them, “and nearly collapsed with shock...” Somehow he survived squinting in the bright sunlight. By the time they pair reach Howth, north Dublin, their fragile hands could grip a paddle but could barely hold a litre of milk or orange juice.

The log includes an equipment list with useful comments on what was and wasn’t required. A silk scarf was “invaluable and essential, while a helmet “ was never used, not carried from Malin onwards”.

“Loose leaves” from a diary were “posted home regularly”, Flavin wrote, and “postage-paid cards were used”, but there was no reading material packed – “no book, no space”. There is also advice on food in the “menu” section, where the nightcap was “white coffee, sugar, Ovaltine, biscuits..”

Timmy Flavin died four years ago of cancer, and the book includes moving tributes to him penned by Donal Dowd, Tony Noctor and by Michael O’Sullivan, a colleague in the ESB where Flavin worked.

“A gentle quiver of a breeze must have passed over the MagGillycuddy’s Reeks and across the Atlantic waters to the Sceiligs, Blaskets, Bull Rock and down the channel of the Blackwater on the 28th May 2015, when Timmy Flavin took his last breath on earth,” O’Sullivan writes, charting the career of a “giant of a man”, proficient at both kayaking and orienteering and a volunteer instructor at Cappanalea outdoor pursuits centre in Co Kerry.

It was at Cappanalea that his future wife, Bríd, met him. All profits from her late husband’s log are being shared between the Kerry University Hospital’s Palliative Care Unit, and the RNLI Valentia lifeboat station, in Co Kerry.

At the Water’s Edge: Two Boats – Around Ireland by Kayak by Timmy Flavin is priced €15 and copies are available directly from Bríd Farrell at email address: [email protected]

Published in Kayaking
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The Irish National Sailing & Powerboat School is hosting its annual Open Day this Sunday 5 May with opportunities to try sailing, kayaking or paddleboarding for only €10.

Children aged 7 and up and their families can get to grips with the INSS’ fleet of 1720 Sportboats, as well as easy-to-master sit-on-yop kayaks and popular stand-up paddleboards, guided by the school’s experienced instructors.

Waterproof overalls and lifejackets will be provided for sailors, wetsuits and buoyancy aids for kayakers and paddleboarders, and hot showers will be provided after your fun on the water — so all you need to bring is your enthusiasm!

Three times slots are available on the day (10am-12pm, 12.30pm-2.30pm and 3pm-5pm) and booking must be made in advance. For more details see the INSS website HERE.

Published in INSS

#LoughRee - RTÉ News reports that a man has died after an incident while kayaking on Lough Ree yesterday afternoon (Saturday 4 March).

Coastguard and RNLI teams recovered the casualty, believed to be an experienced water sportsman, after he went missing between Hodson Bay and the village of Lecarrow. He later died at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe.

Published in News Update

#RNLI - Youghal RNLI has rescued a man who was found clinging to his kayak yesterday afternoon (Sunday 19 February) after he was in the sea for up to 45 minutes.

The volunteer crew was requested to launch their inshore lifeboat at 2pm after a member of Youghal Coast Guard who was driving past Redbarn beach observed what he thought to be someone in trouble in the water.

The lifeboat, helmed by Patsy O’Mahony and with crew members John Griffin, Eddie Hennessy and Martin Morris onboard, launched at 2.08pm and arrived on scene four minutes later, where they found the kayaker had got into difficulty one mile from the beach.

Weather conditions at the time were described as good, with a Force 2-3 north-westerly wind. The tide was falling and the water while calm was cold.

On scene, the lifeboat crew observed the kayaker clinging to his board. He had been unable to get back into the seat on top of the kayak and was showing signs of hypothermia after being immersed in the cold sea for up to 45 minutes.

The casualty was quickly recovered from the water and administered casualty care on the lifeboat and back at the lifeboat station until a doctor from the East Cork Rapid Response unit arrived. The kayaker was then transferred by ambulance to Cork University Hospital.

Speaking following the callout, Youghal RNLI lifeboat operations manager Derry Walsh said: “The kayaker, who was wearing a lifejacket when he got into difficulty this afternoon, had been in the water for a long time before he was spotted and he was suffering from hypothermia when we reached him. Time was of the essence and I have no doubt that a life was saved.

“I would like to commend the member of the public and the member of the coastguard unit here in Youghal who spotted the kayaker in difficulty and raised the alarm. Our crew responded rapidly and used their skills and training to administer casualty care. The kayaker was lucky today and all at Youghal RNLI would like to wish him a speedy recovery following his ordeal.”

Walsh added: “We would always encourage everyone taking to the sea to respect the water. Always carry a means of calling for help and keep it within reach. Wear a personal floatation device. Check the weather and tides. Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back. Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions and your trip.”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

#Kayaking - A Cork man is in the midst of an epic kayaking expedition along the Persian Gulf to raise awareness of the region’s marine environment, as the Evening Echo reports.

Colin Wong from Bishopstown is close to Abu Dhabi as part of a three-man team that set off from Kuwait over two months ago, and by the time they reach Muscat in Oman they will have covered more than 2,000km along the Gulf’s western coast.

The trio are paddling under the banner of Kayak4Kuwait, with the aim of raising awareness about the importance of the sea to the countries of the Persian Gulf.

While the journey is Wong’s biggest and most demanding expedition, the 32-year-old is no stranger to long stints on the water, kayaking the River Nile in Uganda last November after placing second in the Liffey Descent marathon.

The Evening Echo has more on the story HERE.

Published in Kayaking

#RNLI - Newcastle RNLI was requested by Belfast Coastgaurd to launch to the aid of what was believed to be a dinghy in trouble a half-mile south of Newcastle Harbour on Saturday afternoon (31 December).

However, when the inshore lifeboat arrived on scene, the crew discovered that the callout was to three kayakers in trouble, with one man found clinging to his kayak in the freezing water and unable to get to safety.

The lifeboat volunteers observed one kayak being towed by another but only one person was visible. On further investigation it was established there was one person in the water further along the shoreline.

Proceeding further south, the lifeboat crew located a male clinging to the front of his kayak, unable to get to safety.

The person was recovered from the freezing water onto the lifeboat and the crew carried out the RNLI’s ‘casualty care’ before returning to Newcastle Lifeboat Station to await the arrival of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.

The lifeboat then went back to the scene to rescue a further kayaker and his kayak while Newcastle Coastguard recovered the third casualty from the shore line. The casualties were transferred into the care of paramedics.

“Another five minutes and we could have been dealing with a completely different outcome,” said Newcastle RNLI lifeboat helm Alan Jones. “The water is absolutely freezing at this time of year.”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

#Rescue - Howth’s coastguard and lifeboat teams launched to the rescue of a lone kayaker off the North Dublin headland yesterday morning (Wednesday 28 September).

After a concerned onlooker called 999 when spotting that the kayaker was on the water with no life jacket, Howth Coast Guard and Howth RNLI’s inshore lifeboat were both tasked to the scene near Ireland’s Eye.

In the meantime the kayaker had proceeded around the back of the island and out of visibility from the caller on land. While the kayaker didn’t appear in difficulty, there were concerns for their safety.

A coastguard mobile unit proceeded to the end of the pier while the lifeboat launched on service to the far side of Ireland’s Eye, where the crew located a female on an open-deck kayak struggling in the water. She was brought back ashore by the lifeboat without incident.

“If she fell in the water, she had no means of staying afloat as she had no life jacket and only had a phone to call for help, there can be very limited if any phone signal once you go on the water,” according to an Irish Coast Guard spokesperson.

“The kayaker hadn’t checked the weather, which was unsuitable for the craft she was in. The lessons learnt are you need to have an emergency plan if going on the water – VHF radio, flares, whistle, weather information.

“Equally if not more important, you need a life jacket, no excuse.”

The rescue came just hours after Larne RNLI launched to assist two kayakers in difficulty off the Co Antrim coast, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

Published in Rescue

#RNLI - A group of kayakers were brought to safety on Thursday night (18 August) by Union Hall RNLI after they got into difficulty during a night-time kayaking expedition off Castlehaven in West Cork.

The alarm was raised by one of the kayakers after two of the party became separated and the group requested assistance to make their way back to shore.

Union Hall RNLI's inshore lifeboat was launched at 10.45pm and proceeded to the scene, where they learned that the two kayakers originally thought missing had made it to safety on shore and the rest of the group requested assistance to get back to land.

It was decided to take the group off their kayaks and bring them onto the lifeboat before bringing them the short distance to Reen Pier.

The 15 people were helped onboard the Atlantic 85 lifeboat while their kayaks were towed back to shore.

"This was a large group for our inshore lifeboat to assist and our volunteer crew did well in ensuring that everyone was taken onboard quickly and safely," said Union Hall RNLI lifeboat operations manager John Kelleher.

"The weather conditions were challenging for the lifeboat crew to get from their base in Union Hall over to Castlehaven but thankfully conditions on scene were much calmer.

"With the call for help coming in quite early and the lifeboat crew on scene quickly, we were able to get the situation under control in a short time with everyone accounted for and safely brought ashore."

Published in RNLI Lifeboats
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