Every year the RNLI and other rescue authorities end up rescuing hundreds of people who on impulse have bought a lilo or inflatable dinghy with the idea of having a paddle off the beach.
Where normally I focus on various ways of learning to sail and the qualifications you may need for your leisure or professional career, this week I want to get to grips with the very basics of going afloat for those who may just buy a small inflatable to augment their fun on the beach. Millions do every year – this will give you an idea about how to be safe. It is better to be a bit pedantic and sensible than to be rescued or not come home at all.
All sailors have a fairly good idea of the weather throughout the day and into the rest of the week. Meteorology is a somewhat geekish yet very important part of all boating. The weather can change suddenly and if you aren’t prepared it can have your boat upside down and from having a fun time splashing about you can end up in a survival situation.
If you are at a beach resort, have topped up your tan and are thinking of something slightly more adventurous, then get hold of a good 24 hour weather forecast. This will guide you on a number of things:
Another somewhat geekish sideline to sailing is knowing what the tide will be doing. You can find out the tide times from a local shop or online. This will give you an idea when the currents will be strong and when there will be ‘slack tide’ – a half hour where the tide does nothing in between filling and emptying or emptying and filling the area of water you want to play in.
On the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel you have some of the biggest tidal ranges in the world. What does this mean? With the tide rising anything up to 15 metres in 6 hours, you have crazy strong currents. Paddling about off Weston Super Mare when the tide turns? You could be caught in currents of 20mph. In just over an hour you could be off Cardiff Bay with the rescue teams having a very large area to search for you. Even without the winds playing their part (the wind could significantly widen their search area) you have a search area of 400 square miles for them to search for you!
The tides aren’t always so strong. Around the rest of the UK you will see tidal ranges of 5 metres or less in many cases. There are hidden hazards though. Weymouth Bay is one of the most benign and protected stretches of coast in Europe. Only 7 miles from Weymouth you have the ship killing overfalls of the Portland Race. Even the apparently gentle could kill you if you’re silly.
Ask locals about rip tides. These can drag you out to sea very quickly.
If you want to take your kids out, then make sure you are within a few seconds of them at all times. Ideally you should tie a piece of rope to the inflatable – even a few metres is good – and hold onto one end at all times while they splash about.
With the rope in hand, make sure you and your kids are never out of your standing depth in the water. If you can stand up you have control – out of your depth you could get in just as much trouble as they. This doesn’t mean you must stay within a few metres of the beach either. At Weymouth the other day I saw families wading a good 200 metres out! Every beach is different.
Water sports are a lot more fun if you know what you are doing.
Consider doing a basic boating course such as an RYA Powerboat Level 2 or a RYA Dinghy Level 2. Even consider a British Canoe Union (BCU) course – this is something my partner and I will be doing this winter ahead of buying some decent beach canoes next year.
I have years of sailing experience and have travelled thousands of miles on everything that floats, but what I know at core is that you can never learn enough about boating and boating safety. Don’t be beguiled by the beauty and serenity of the water – it will kill you if you make a mistake.