A co-ordinated approach to safety at sea for all leisure users is part of a new plan by HM Coastguard to proactively protect people from getting into trouble on or in the water.

A meeting held at the Stornoway Coastguard Operations Centre on Thursday (June 6th) brought together maritime leisure groups representing sailors, surfers, kayakers, divers and open-water swimmers to look at ways in which people can be kept safe – stopping dramas from happening and improving the chance of rescue if they do.

Maritime operations specialist Carol Campbell told welovestornoway.com today (Monday June 10th): “It’s really Stornoway Coastguard being more proactive and reaching out to the maritime community. Rather than waiting for things to go wrong and stepping in, we’re aiming for better mutual understanding between leisure users and safety services to reduce accidents at sea.

“This is the first time we have tried something like this, it’s in response to the MCA’s recently published business plan which has identified three target areas for development and one of them is maritime safety.”

Thursday evening’s session saw safety devices such as Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) being explained and demonstrated. SafeTRX is a system which allows you to register any vessel via the app or website, and which shows vessel details and has a live tracking system.

But those present also heard about simple steps to improve chances of rescue in an emergency – such as high visibility floats for sea-swimmers and folding flags for divers – and the importance of letting someone, especially the local Coastguard, know where and when you will be out on the water.

Rodney ‘Cheggs’ Jamieson of Surf Lewis said that surfing as a recreational sport has increased by 50% in the last 10 years and is now ever more popular in the islands, with more visitors coming up here specifically to surf. Although Coastguards get few calls about surfers, Cheggs is also a member of the RNLI and, with an RNLI assessor, has started looking at beach risk assessment and the possibility of placing safety information boards at popular beaches, as they do in other surf locations like Cornwall.

Endurance swimmer Colin Macleod, who this week completed his conquest of the Big Minch Swim, carries a spot tracker and calls the coastguard to let them know where he will be swimming and when he expects to finish.

Carol Campbell said: “The Coastguard are happy to take a note of anyone’s swim, surf, kayak or boat trip. Then if you do get in to difficulty we know where to start looking.”

All those who attended the event agreed that there were a series of essential points which contribute to sea safety for everyone. They include:

  • Planning - where are you going, what is your route and how long do you expect to be?
  • Conditions – sea, swell and currents, wind speed and direction and weather
  • Safety equipment – including personal buoyancy, and your own distress alert method
  • Letting someone know - have a shore contact who knows what you plan to do or call the Coastguard and tell them
  • Experience – be sure that you have enough experience and knowledge for what you plan to do
  • And it’s better to be in a group then by yourself

No matter what your experience, things can still go wrong, so you should have some plan for rescue or someone to raise the alarm if needed. The Coastguard would rather be alerted then not – they are there to search, to rescue and to save – but you can help by being well-prepared for your maritime adventure.

Carol concluded: “We are very keen to become more pro-active in our approach to maritime safety, rather than being a reactive organisation who people only contact when they have a maritime emergency. I think there will be mutual benefit in more continued dialogue with these groups and we can support each other in the areas of maritime safety and accident prevention”.

Pictured: Representatives of local maritime leisure groups and members of HMCG Stornoway