Irish Water Safety estimates that if everyone going out on Irish seas, lakes and rivers were to wear a personal flotation device, the number of deaths would decline by 70%.
While there is tight legislation in this country governing the use of personal flotation devices (PFDs) in commercial settings such as fishing, the legal requirements rapidly dilute when one looks at the recreational use of boats.
However, according to John Leech of Irish Water Safety that does not mean there is a need for more laws, but rather a need for better education and awareness, particularly among those who use boats for pleasure.
The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) is finding that while the numbers of incidents it is investigating in the commercial fishing industry, where a casualty is not wearing a PFD, are decreasing, in the recreational arena, the opposite is the case.
There have been numerous cases of pleasure craft accidents in which people have been killed and, in a number of them, the lack of PFD is cited as a concern.
Just two months ago, MCIB released a report into its investigation into a death in West Cork in which the victim was not wearing a device. It told how in the early hours of December 5, 2008, 10 people set off from Colla Pier, near Schull, heading to Coney Island, where they planned to stay the weekend.
The owner of the open six-metre boat offered the passengers oilskins, wellingtons and lifejackets, but most refused the lifejackets.
The boat stalled before they reached the island and began to drift. The owner tried to change the engine, but this was ineffective and the boat capsized.
Nearly all of the boat’s occupants managed to swim to shore or to cling to the boat, but one man, Alain Adler, drifted out to sea and drowned.
According to John Leech, there are many similar cases where a death would have been avoidable if the person was wearing a flotation device. He said the culture needs to be addressed in which some see it as macho not to wear a lifejacket.
Since 2003, water safety has been taught as part of the national school education programme and that has a massive effect on the number of deaths.