Accidents and injuries on our waterways are rare, but every year a few people do get hurt – usually through inexperience or not paying attention. By looking at the accidents people have had on boats over the past few years, we’ve found that they fit into a relatively small number of categories. This part of the guide tells you about these so that you can avoid the same misfortune.
Wherever you are – home, work or on a waterway – the most common accidents are slips, trips and falls. But when you fall off a boat or from the waterside, those accidents can be more serious.
Apart from the risk of drowning, you could be dragged or fall into a moving propeller. You could hit your head, or be crushed between your boat and another object. There’s also a slight risk of infection from the water itself.
Boats and watersides are littered with bollards, rings, ropes and holes. Surfaces can be uneven or slippery, particularly in wet or icy weather or early morning dew. So you need to keep your eyes open – and slow down. Many falls happen during mooring – simply because people aren’t sure of the procedure.
There are unprotected drops at locksides. Watch out especially when operating lock gates.
Although rare, boat fires and explosions can be fatal. There are some specific risks to be aware of.
The bottled gas used for cookers, fridges and heaters is heavier than air and, if there’s a leak, it’ll build up in the bottom of the boat. A small spark will ignite this gas.
Watch out for fumes from cookers, cabin heaters and water heaters or from engine exhaust building up in the boat. Carbon monoxide poisoning is extremely dangerous – early signs include headaches, tiredness, sickness and dizziness, and other flu-like symptoms. Anyone affected should get medical help. If the symptoms are severe or recurrent, contact emergency services and get to hospital straightaway.
Petrol vapour is also heavier than air and highly flammable. If there’s a strong smell of gas or petrol do the following:
Collisions – with other boats, banks, bridges or other structures – are another common cause of injury. The impact can lead to falls, both onto the deck and into the water. And for people working in the galley, there’s a risk of scalds or burns.
What causes collisions?
If your boat collides with something else, you don’t want to be in the way. Don’t put yourself between the boat and a bank, tunnel or bridge, or you could end up with crushed fingers or legs – or even more serious body injuries. Don’t get your body in the way of a moving bridge or lock balance beam.
What causes crushing injuries?
All boats have a limit to the number of people that can safely be on board. Look for a plate showing the number or get it from the boat’s handbook or safety information folder.
Think carefully before going on the cabin roof as the boat could become top heavy and roll over. Obey any sign or instruction that limits people on the roof.
Don’t let everyone stand together on the same side if it risks tipping the boat over.
Before you do anything else, take a breath and think. Don’t panic, don’t jump in – and don’t let others jump in. The water is very cold even in summer. Keep sight of the person in the water at all times.
On narrow canals and slow, shallow rivers:
On wider or deeper waterways:
Make sure everyone on the boat knows the drill – and knows where to find the lifeline or lifebelt. In case it’s the skipper who falls overboard, the crew should also know how to stop the propeller and steer the boat.
Practice the drill. It’s better to learn it before an accident happens.
Boating can involve a lot of physical exercise. Some of the work is heavy and you’ll also be using unfamiliar techniques and tools. Together, the two things can add up to strained backs and muscles, cuts or worse.
What causes operating injuries?
Though boating accidents are few and far between, many of them happen in locks. Moving through a lock is perhaps the trickiest part of boating. There’s a lot to think about at once and a whole series of tasks to carry out.
Practically all the safety tips we’ve come across so far apply here. But you also need to be extra alert. If your boat gets caught up, it could come crashing down into the lock. Should there be a fire on your boat it is harder to escape, and it could spread quickly to other boats sharing the lock. Read the detailed guidance on how to use locks on pages 16-29 of the Boaters Handbook.
What causes accidents in locks?
Last date edited: 9 July 2015