Warning after two people suffer serious injuries in boat propeller incidents

PUBLISHED: 06:30 21 August 2020 | UPDATED: 16:58 21 August 2020

People have been warned about the dangers of boat propellers. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

People have been warned about the dangers of boat propellers. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY


Life-changing injuries sustained in two incidents involving boat propellers have sparked a plea for people to stay safe while around water.

People have been urged to be careful around Norfolk's waterways and beaches. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPeople have been urged to be careful around Norfolk's waterways and beaches. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

People have been urged to take extra caution around boat propellers following the incidents this summer, in which people were seriously hurt.

PC Paul Bassham, of Norfolk police’s Broads Beat team, which covers more than 100 miles of waterways, warned that people often forget or are not aware of their location at the back of the vessel.

Broads Beat manager Paul Bassham. Photo : Steve AdamsBroads Beat manager Paul Bassham. Photo : Steve Adams

He said he had dealt with two recent incidents involving propellers which resulted in people losing limbs, including a young man who needed to have a leg amputated after climbing back into a boat following a swim.

“Accidents can happen so it is really important to be conscious of boat propellers,” he said.

Greg Preston head of prevention and protection at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service. Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue ServiceGreg Preston head of prevention and protection at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service. Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

The Broads Authority advises people not to reverse motor boats towards others and not to swim at the back of them.

Its chief executive John Packman says, with the coastguard and emergency services, it has “robust safety systems” in place, making sure the thousands of visitors to the area have a safe experience.

Mr Bassham’s warning comes amid a rise in staycations around Norfolk, which has seen the county’s Broads, beaches and parks become even busier than usual.

Earlier this month, Kristers Bednarskis died at Bawsey Country Park, near King’s Lynn, after getting into difficulty in water, while mother-of-two Danielle Chilvers, from Swaffham, died in the sea off Waxham a day later.

Robin Spruce, who was described as a strong swimmer by loved ones, also died on Saturday, five days after being rescued from the water at Overstrand. And on Wednesday, a woman from London died after becoming trapped under a boat in Great Yarmouth.

It has prompted emergency services to urge people to be careful around water.

Greg Preston, head of protection and prevention at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said people were sometimes lulled into a false sense of security when they have loved ones watching over them from the shore.

“You are more likely to be putting them in harm’s way as well if you come into difficulty,” he said. “Often it is the rescuers who become the victims.”

This month marks five years since teenagers Stella Kambi and Bonheur Munsungay drowned at Thorpe Marshes near Norwich.

According to the National Water Safety Forum, 400 people a year die from accidental drowning in the UK.

One of the main hazards of open water is cold water shock, which can happen in scorching temperatures and in shallow waters.

Anything below 15C is defined as cold water and can seriously affect breathing and movement. The average UK sea temperatures are just 12C.

Cold water shock can cause heart attacks, even in the relatively young and healthy.

“It is incredibly difficult to survive cold water shock,” Mr Preston said, “and while the surface temperature may be warm in hot weather, water underneath can be extremely cold. It is a complete misconception that all water is warm.

“Sadly, every year emergency services predict water related deaths, which are preventable, in the summer months despite repeated warnings.”

Other dangers in open water include inflatables and unexpected tides and currents.

Mr Preston said: “Dinghies and inflatables can go out to sea very quickly. They should only be used in swimming pools for that reason.

“People should also only swim when there are lifeguards present and safety equipment and, otherwise, avoid going in.

“Time and time again people ignore ‘no swimming’ signs. The signage is there for a reason. It saves lives.”

Rubbish, such as shopping trolleys and bicycles, are often thrown into water and can also become a serious hazard.

“People throw all sorts in water,” Mr Bassham said, “and people can get snagged on things and then panic. There are also all sorts of reeds and weeds which can wrap around your legs. You just cannot know what exactly lurks beneath the water.

“It is vital to always wear life jackets at every occasion and to not go out of your depth and stay near safety ladders.

“Really, we don’t advise people to go into the rivers at all but we can see the appeal. But please don’t end up becoming another victim.”

Mr Preston said his biggest message was for parents and carers to teach children about the dangers of water.

Last year, the Aweigh app, which is free to download, was launched to keep people safe on the Broads.

It includes the what3words app which emergency services have recently rolled out to help them find the exact location of incidents in remote areas.

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