RNLI launch kayaker safety campaign

The Shannon lifeboat
The Shannon lifeboat

A new safety campaign has been launched by the RNLI aimed at encouraging coastal kayakers to always carry a means of calling for help, and to keep them on them at all times.

From 2011 to 2015, 18 kayakers have lost their lives. A study carried out, on behalf of the RNLI, in 2013 showed that of those kayakers who lost their lives on the coast in 2010-13, none of them was able to call the emergency services using a mobile phone or radio. The number of near-fatal incidents during that time was even higher, with the RNLI’s lifeboat crews launching 1,603 times to kayakers and canoeists, rescuing 965 people and saving 163 lives.

In Scotland alone, lifeboats launched 172 times to kayakers and canoeists, rescuing 61 people and saving 16 lives from 2011-20153.

The safety campaign advises kayakers to keep a means of calling for help on them at all times. Examples of this include a mobile phone in a waterproof case, a VHF radio or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). The campaign is also reminding kayakers to: wear a personal floatation device; check weather and tides before they go out; tell someone where they are going and when they expect to be back, and get the appropriate training.

The message, ‘Always carry a means of calling for help and keep it within reach. If it can’t be reached in an emergency, it’s no help.’ will feature in targeted posts on Facebook and Instagram. The RNLI has also set up a partnership with Amazon, where the charity will be able to share safety information and tips with Amazon users. Potential customers searching for kayaks, fishing and general water sports equipment will be directed through to an RNLI safety hub to find out more about water safety, including specific tips on kayaking, diving and angling.

Maddy Jennings, junior whitewater slalom canoeist for Scotland and Team GB, is supporting the campaign. She says: “I have been canoeing for seven years; it’s something I’m really passionate about. I know that the water can be unpredictable and accidents can happen to anyone. There are some really simple things you can do to prepare for kayaking trips that can help keep you safe.

“It’s important to keep a means of calling for help in a waterproof and secure place on your body, so if you capsize from your kayak or canoe you have a way to get help. It’s just as essential as wearing a personal flotation device and could save your life.”

Adam Tiesteel, 21, was kayaking with a friend in Moelfre, Wales, when a strong gust of wind capsized his friend’s kayak. Unable to get back into his kayak, his friend was in the water for nearly 20 minutes attempting to swim the kayak ashore battling against strong offshore winds. Luckily, the pair were spotted by a member of the lifeboat crew using high-powered binoculars and a lifeboat was launched to the rescue, taking the men aboard the lifeboat and towing the kayaks behind.

Adam and his friend were cold and exhausted, but unharmed from the incident. Adam is now supporting the RNLI’s kayaking safety campaign to help keep other people safe. He said: “I don’t know what would’ve happened if we hadn’t been spotted in trouble that day. If I’d capsized too I might not have been able to reach my phone in my kayak.

“When my friend capsized, I was able to grab my phone from my dry pouch and call my Dad, who contacted the Coastguard. Luckily by the time my Dad had contacted them we had already been spotted and the lifeboat was on its way.

“I’d encourage kayakers to always carry a way of calling for help, keep it on you, and in a waterproof case, so you know you can call for help even if you capsize.

“I cannot thank the RNLI enough for spotting us and coming to our rescue. The situation could have turned out very differently.

“I’ve been kayaking for years and would urge anyone who is going out in the ocean to be prepared. Wear a lifejacket, take a means of contact and keep it on your body, make sure people know where you are going and check the weather.”

Guy Addington, Community Incident Reduction Manager at the RNLI, added: “The RNLI is running this safety campaign to try and prevent kayakers from getting into the potentially life-threatening situation of being in the water but having no way of calling for help.

“Our lifeboat volunteers and lifeguards are there to help, but we can’t come to the rescue if we don’t know you’re in trouble.

“Carry a way to call for help, and keep it on you at all times when you’re kayaking. This means that if you capsize and get into trouble, you can call for help and can be rescued.

“Be prepared — remember to wear a personal floatation device and check the weather and tides before you go out. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back, and get the appropriate training so you can enjoy your time on the water and stay safe.”

The campaign forms part of the RNLI’s work to halve the number of accidental coastal deaths by 2024. For more information go to rnli.org/kayaking.