How safe is recreational boating in the UK?

TitleHow safe is recreational boating in the UK?
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsChennell, P
Conference NameWorld Conference on Drowning Prevention
Date Published09/2007
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationPorto, Portugal
Other Numbers02-52

A geographically small country, the UK has a disproportionately high density of recreational boating. It has a temperate climate, though with notoriously unpredictable weather, and boating is a very popular pastime. This popularity produces conflict, not just with competition for available space but also between types of user. At the same time its beaches are some of the busiest in the world, again producing conflict at the beach/open water interface.

The responsibility for safety in UK waters is clear, and detailed in SOLAS, however through a historical accident the delivery is primarily through nongovernmental organisations. The UK has a highly developed SAR network coordinated by the Marine Coastguard Agency (MCA) and delivered largely by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), a charitable organisation. Traditionally rescues at sea have been to those who earn their living from it, latterly it is more towards the recreational boater, who is less versed in the potentially hazardous nature of the sea. There is a cost of providing this service; furthermore in terms of National Economics there is a financial benefit that accrues.

In order for boating to be wholly safe, firstly the activity itself has to be conducted safely, with the safety net coming from SAR as a last resort. Boating in the UK is unregulated which means that there is no formal structure for acquiring training and safety education. With deaths in the recreational boating sector being quite small, compared with the very high numbers that partake, the statistics probably reflect a structure more attuned to the ability to pick up the pieces rather than a safe one. It can be argued that boating is actually a risk activity, it is only perceived as safe because a highly developed SAR capability means that countless incidents are averted.

In order to address this shortcoming, the RNLI acknowledges the importance of prevention, and delivers a highly respected programme aimed at getting recreational boaters to understand the need to be more aware of safety issues, and its metrics indicate a significant contribution to boating safety.

Learning Outcomes
  1. Statistics recording deaths may not necessarily reflect the safety of an activity
  2. To understand the RNLI preventative programmes
  3. To consider the parallels with Road Safety
  4. To understand the high density UK boating environment and to consider the impact of regulation