Safety campaign follows Norfolk Broads deaths

A new initiative is being launched to encourage more people on boats to wear lifejackets following four deaths on the Norfolk Broads so far this year.

The Broads Authority's head of safety management, Steve Birtles, is setting up a working party to look at the issue with the Broads Hire Boat Federation (BHBF), holiday booking agents and the Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association, which represents private boaters.

At the same time, boating holidaymakers are to be surveyed to find out what factors influence their decision whether to use the buoyancy aids supplied.

The moves have been announced in the same week that the EDP went on patrol with Broads Authority rangers on Breydon Water and discovered a shocking disregard for safety among holidaymakers on hire boats.

It revealed an estimated 80pc of hirers shunning lifejackets and widespread ignorance of tides and other fundamental such as how to moor safely.

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All four tragedies this year involved people not wearing lifejackets and it is believed that three of the victims might still be alive if they had been wearing one.

The most recent fatality at Acle Bridge last month involved Sheffield holidaymaker Anthony Crampton, 66, who fell in the fast-flowing River Bure while mooring; none of the party on the Summercraft vessel Grecian Girl was wearing a lifejacket apart from the family dog.

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Mr Birtles stressed that failing to wear lifejackets was not just a problem among holidaymakers; two of the four fatalities this year involved private boat owners.

He said: 'While it is recognised that accidents do happen, the authority is setting up a working group to help identify how safety messages relating to the wearing of lifejackets can be more effectively delivered.

'We also want to understand what the barriers are to wearing a lifejacket so that we may work together with the bodies concerned to address this problem.'

Mr Birtles suggested that wider provision of the slimmer, more comfortable types of lifejacket might be one step forward.

Concerning some holidaymakers' lack of awareness over other boating fundamentals, he said the authority was carrying out checks at hire boat yards on the thoroughness of instruction offered at the time of hand-over.

'We want to ensure there is a minimum 'show-out' standard at every yard,' he said.

Mr Birtles' safety messages were endorsed by Sue Cadamy, director of Wroxham-based Summercraft which had hired the boat to Mr Crampton, a customer of many years.

She said: 'I know his wife Linda would want something positive to come out of the tragedy and raise awareness about lifejackets.

'He just would not wear one even though he had fallen in once during the holiday.'

Lynda Cressey, who runs Loddon-based Maffett Cruisers with her husband John, believes they have found the perfect way to encourage young children to wear lifejackets - offering them ones colourfully decorated with Nemo the fish.

'One child loved it so much he only took it off when he went to bed,' she said.

The couple are also proud they far exceed the standard of instruction required by hire boat licensing; they have even taken half a day to teach customers how to safely drive their cruiser.

The shocking safety failings of many boaters have also been highlighted by experienced sailing instructor Dave Armitage who runs Try Sailing on Barton Broad.

He said: 'Last week I rescued a father and daughter whose catamaran had turned over; the girl had no lifejacket and was wearing Wellingtons which would have been like lead boots.'

He said he was also dismayed to see children on the roof of hire boats in stocking feet and playing at the back of boats with no lifejackets on.

A spokesman for the BHBF said they were keen to work with the Broads Authority to find ways of further improving safety awareness.

He said the Broads hire boat licensing scheme conditions already required all on board to be provided with lifejackets or buoyancy aids during the handover process and this had been industry practice for many years.

Hirers were also urged to wear their buoyancy aids, particularly when moving outside the cabins of the boat, going on deck or going ashore to moor up.

'This message is repeated in various publications, leaflets and DVDs which are available to hirers. Unfortunately people sometime disregard this advice,' he said.

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