RNLI says ‘No Inflatables’

I just came across an RNLI campaign sponsored by Ford from August 2020, at which time paddling in the UK and elsewhere had gone ballistic. As some may recall, beaches in the UK were packed with a consequent rise in call outs
Among the pithy safety advice they found room to print on a Ford Ranger’s specially moulded tyres – ‘RNLI Ford‘, ‘Emergency? Call 999‘ and ‘Float to Live‘ (a good case for inflatables, you’d think) – they also chose to include the rather blunt: ‘No Inflatables‘.
As the Ford press release linked above says:

  • In 2019, RNLI lifeguards aided more than 29,000 people on UK beaches in more than 17,000 incidents, saving a total of 154 lives. They also helped to reunite nearly 1,800 lost children and teenagers with their families and aided 346 people in incidents involving inflatables.

In other words, 0.5% of incidents involved inflatables. Another statistic in the report may explain why inflatables got such prominence:

  • 40% of people who say they would take an inflatable into the sea in the UK admit to previously getting into difficulty

How would you interpret this? Reckless stupidity or learning from your mistakes and being a bit more careful next time? Is the suggestion that ‘getting into difficulty’ required a rescue?

‘Stay together’

A fourth moulded-tyre message advising what looks like ‘Stay Together‘ (right) was given far less prominence in the press release and photos. It presumably referred to the >10% of incidents of children getting separated from their families at the seaside. That can be very unnerving for all concerned but is less perilous than being blown out to sea.
It will be interesting to read the 2020 stats if they become available.

It was a Ford publicity stunt, of course, capitalising on their support of the RNLI which is a voluntary organisation part-assisted by donations. A link makes it clear by ‘inflatables’ they mean pool toys as above left or the inflatable toucan ring the little girl is seen wearing at the start of the video (below), running across a deserted beach towards the surf. But you’d think there was a better way of saying it. After all, the RNLI use inflatables themselves.

Allow me to pull a publicity stunt of my own and refer to the Weather & Safety chapter in the new book. The advice is clear: compared to a relatively heavy hardshell sea kayak which sits low in the water, much lighter more buoyant and wind-catching IKs can become difficult to manage in windy sea conditions, even if you are young and fit.
Unless you know better, never go sea kayaking with a strong offshore wind, and think twice about going alone, especially to explore an unfamiliar area. At sea always wear a buoyancy aid. The summer sun may be hot on your back but in the UK, the water is cold. It’s the initial involuntary gasping reflex caused by cold water shock which leads panic, flailing about and drowning. That’s what they mean by Float to Live: once you’re over the initial shook and the breathing has stabilised, spread your limbs out and relax (assuming you can’t get back to you boat). Obviously a buoyancy aid makes this all much easier.

Last time I looked, you won’t find anything on the RNLI specifically addressing IK and iSUP limitations, and yet it is inexpensive IKs which tend to be bought by holidaymakers with no knowledge of how they handle at sea in windy conditions. I suggested to the RNLI writing such a piece but was told they have their own safety experts.

The Ford RNLI video below was shot at Minnis Bay, near Margate. I’ve never been paddling there but it does look like a particularly exposed beach where a typical southwesterly wind would blow you straight out into the Channel.

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