To mark the start of Boat Fire Safety Week, the RYA has today launched the 2017 Safety Advisory Notice - featuring six key topics to help boaters think in practical terms about their safety afloat.

Compiled for the leisure boater and first launched in 2014, the RYA Safety Advisory Notice offers a simple digest of critical safety issues including those that have arisen from incidents and tragic accidents in the past year.

Lessons learned

These learning points supplement the RYA's key safety messages: look after yourself, have a plan, keep in touch and know your limits. Together they underpin the national governing body's ethos of self-reliance and responsibility for safety on board.

Reviewing the Notice annually enables the RYA Safety Advisory Group to examine safety concerns that have emerged throughout the year and consolidate any lessons learnt. The Association hopes that highlighting the causes of incidents and how they might have been prevented will encourage us all to think about our own actions in a different light and above all help to make better decisions both before setting off and when out on the water.

The newly published fourth edition focuses on six key topics for boaters to think about:

  • How to combat carbon monoxide
  • The shocking truth of cold water
  • The importance of clipping on intelligently
  • The impact of knots, hitches and splices in HMPE rope
  • The appropriate use of safety helmets in boating
  • Boat maintenance and keeping in touch 

The guide starts with an important reminder about the importance of understanding the dangers of Carbon Monoxide and recognising the symptoms of CO poisoning. It recommends fitting an alarm that complies with BS EN50291-2:2010 and if it sounds, boaters are urged to get out of the boat and into the fresh air immediately. The message is quite clear - get wise, get alarmed, and get out.

The latest Safety Advisory Notice also outlines how Cold Water Shock (CWS) causes involuntary body reactions that can be as swift as they are deadly. The ability to swim well has no impact on these responses. It is far deadlier than Hypothermia, yet far less understood by boaters in general. The key to surviving cold shock is being alert to the symptoms and acting quickly to protect your airway and conserve your strength.

The RYA's advice urges boaters not only to be aware of the dangers of CWS, but also the risk of secondary drowning if they recover someone from the water, whereby any water that has entered the lungs can cause a potentially life-threatening condition called pulmonary oedema.

A reminder of the importance of clipping on intelligently advises boaters that movement must be sensibly balanced with the risk of falling overboard; safety lines need to be long enough to let you move around the boat or to carry out the task at hand, but not so long that it will allow you to fall overboard.

The impact of knots, hitches and splices in High Modulus Polyethylene (HMPE) rope also features in this year's Safety Advisory Notice. The RYA's advice is to carefully consider the type of rope used for specific tasks. Boaters should be aware that knots, hitches and splices in HMPE rope will reduce its strength, possibly by up to 80% of the maximum breaking strain.

With the America's Cup now in full swing, it's timely to think about the appropriate use of safety helmets within the sport. Wearing a sailing helmet may well be beneficial in reducing the risk of blunt trauma head injury in a high performance environment but for the less experienced, it could lead to a greater chance of injury if the hazards are not understood.

The RYA acknowledges that more research is required on this rapidly evolving issue within the sport. However, as with any aspect of boating it is important that if participants feel a helmet may be appropriate for the boating they are doing, they should first assess what it is that they are trying to achieve, whether the intended helmet is fit for purpose and what other measures may be appropriate, either instead of or as well as a helmet.

Get trained

Finally, it is worth considering how up to date your boat maintenance skills are. Mechanical failure is the single biggest cause of rescue call-outs to sailing and motor cruisers and accounts for nearly 20% of all lifeboat launches. If you know how to fix common problems and how to carry out basic maintenance and engine care, you can avoid becoming part of this statistic.

The RYA remains concerned that many boaters do not tell anyone where they are going, what time they plan to get there or who is on board. In the majority of cases, things work out as intended but occasionally they do go wrong - hence raising awareness in the Safety Advisory Notice of the RYA SafeTrx app, which is free to download and there is no charge to use it. RYA SafeTrx records your details, ETA and tracks your trip. The app will automatically alert a nominated contact if the trip goes overdue and your sail plan will be available to the Coastguard if search and rescue has to be activated. The app also contains a considerable number of useful functions and useful port, marina and weather information.

The RYA continues to work closely with other UK agencies responsible for safety on the water and with the marine trade to progress its policy of information and education, which the RYA believes is a powerful tool in fostering safe attitudes and behaviour on the water.

Safety is a state of mind

The launch of the 2017 Safety Advisory Notice coincides with Boat Fire Safety Week, which runs from 29 May to 4 June. As part of the national Fire Kills and Boat Safety Scheme initiative, a number of Fire and Rescue Services across the country will be visiting boaters to offer free safety advice and to offer free smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to people who live or work on the water.

RYA Chief Executive, Sarah Treseder, says: "Safety is a state of mind - it's not simply down to the boat or equipment you have. It's about what we do to prepare and safeguard ourselves. By learning lessons when things do go wrong, we are able to reflect on the contributing factors and help ensure that British boating continues its long-standing tradition of self-reliance and individual responsibility."

Visit the RYA online safety hub for your FREE copy of the Safety Advisory Notice 2017, along with a wealth of practical advice and top tips covering a vast array of boating activities.