SAFETY regulations covering paddleboarding trips must be tightened up, say marine investigators, after completing an investigation into the death of four people in a river tragedy last year.
But while paddleboarding has become extremely popular on the Wye and other rivers in warmer months in the past three years, with commercial groups of more than 20 beginners regularly launching out off the town steps and at Symonds Yat, it is largely unregulated.
Ross Rowing Club follows navigation rules agreed with the Environment Agency alongside British Rowing safety rules.
But groups of novice paddleboarders can regularly be seen straddling the river in the way of faster boats.
An investigation into the River Cleddau tragedy on October 30, 2021, heard that the group of nine paddleboarders had set out on fast flowing water and were swept over a weir where several got trapped under the water.
The inquiry by the Marine Accident Investigation Board concluded last week that the group leaders’ planning and preparation for the tour was inadequate and overlooked the extreme hazard posed by the weir.
It said leaders did not have the training, experience or qualifications to lead the tour.
And it added that UK stand up paddleboarding safety messaging and training governance was inconsistent, without any means for the participants to judge the proficiency of training and tour providers.
Clothing, buoyancy aid and leash wearing by participants did not follow recognised guidance.
And it also said signage at the launch point and on the river did not adequately alert participants to the risk of the weir.
Andrew Moll, Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, said: “This was a tragic and avoidable accident that had a profound effect on the participants and the families of those that lost their lives.
“Stand up paddleboarding is probably the fastest growing UK water sport, with participation in recent years growing by nearly 300 per cent. However, like all water sports, those that buy or rent a paddleboard need to understand the risks.
“First, if you are stand up paddleboarding wear the right equipment. Always wear a buoyancy aid and, in moving water, wear a quick release waist leash so you can separate yourself from your paddleboard if it becomes trapped.
“Second, remember that in certain conditions weirs can develop treacherous hydraulic towbacks that can trap and drown you…
“Third, looking to the future, it is critical that the governance of this fast-growing sport improves so the public receive clear, consistent safety advice and are able to recognise businesses that are competent to deliver training, tours and expeditions.”
The report called on UK national sports councils toc ontinue their review of the governance of stand up paddleboarding “urgently ensure that the recognised national governing bodies have the resource, support and expertise to issue advice and guidance, including appropriate training standards to control risk to those who take part in this fast-growing sport”.
Father-of-three Mr O’Dwyer, a member of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers 108 Welsh Squadron militia, who had cruised down the Wye eight days earlier, died when he tried to save fellow paddleboarders who became trapped under the weir by the hydraulic tow. Three women also died in the tragedy.
Mr O’Dwyer reportedly worked for South Wales Paddle Boarders and Salty Dog Co, a surf clothing and paddle board business, which organised the trip.
A woman who was believed to be the organiser of the trip was arrested and released pending further investigation on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter. No one has been charged to date.
Following the tragedy, donors helped Mr O’Dwyer’s Wye 100-mile fundraising total in aid of heart screening to more than £6,000.