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Safety Boat Guidance


(Published January 2015, last reviewed 2021 with no updates)

This is guidance and is not compulsory but is designed to help those who wish to operate safety craft in support of water activities. It is the responsibility of the Permit Holder to ensure appropriate safety cover is in place for the activity they are going to deliver.

Your safety boat requirements should be determined by the risk assessment for the activity you are undertaking and may vary depending on the conditions. Safety boats can be powered or manual, it is important that an appropriate craft is chosen for the role it needs to undertake. For some activities it may be appropriate to be in the same craft as those in the session, for example in Kayaking or Canoeing, carrying additional equipment (such as a tow line) to help ensure the safety of the activity. In other activities it may be appropriate to have a separate powered craft with its own dedicated crew. Safety craft in this context are those in addition to any craft being used by the activity leader for the activity. 

Key considerations are identified below:

  • With powered craft this should be a minimum of 2 competent crew. Competency can be shown through qualifications or technical experience. Note- it is not necessary to hold a permit to be a member of a safety crew. The permit required is for the activity the young people are undertaking.
  • If a powered craft is used then additional safety equipment, such as kill cords and a radio should also be carried. It is good practice for planing powered craft to carry two kill cords (one attached to the engine and a spare). Safety crew should have the physical capability to undertake a rescue and should be dressed appropriately. They should also be prepared to enter the water if they deem it appropriate.
  • Safety crew should have some knowledge of the activity they are providing safety cover for and how to ensure a safe rescue of the craft used. Some activities (such as windsurfing) may have specialist rescue techniques which the crew should be familiar with.
  • Safety crew should have access to a first aid kit and have appropriate training in how to respond in an emergency given the kit provided.
  • Depending on the location and the conditions the following additional equipment may be carried:
    • Flares (Day/Night varieties Available, check use by date)
    • VHF Radio (in dry bag)
    • Mobile Phone (in dry bag)
    • Tow lines
    • Spare clothes / waterproofs
    • An emergency Knife
  • It is the responsibility of the permit holder to ensure appropriate communication systems are in place. In a small well defined area it may be possible to use hand signals to communicate, however on larger expanses of water radios are more commonly used.
  • Clear communication systems will be required where the safety boat is shared between more than one activity group. The risk assessment should ensure appropriate coverage is in place for all groups on the water.
  • An appropriate communication system is one where the safety boat can be called upon for assistance.