Active360 policy on leashes and buoyancy aids

This policy is reviewed frequently and based on our experiences on the river as well as industry best practice. We are always looking to improve safety and open to new ideas and developments in equipment.

Leashes and buoyancy aids are essential safety equipment and both have their uses in water environments.

On the sea a leash can be considered essential equipment. When we are running coastal activities we would always use them for paddlers at all levels and to date we have not encountered a situation where a leash would not make SUP safer.  Being on the board or holding on to it is the safest place to be in open water  In cold water thermal shock (from sudden immersion) and hypothermia from prolonged immersion are significant risks so it’s very important to be able to get back on the board quickly. Generally a coiled knee leash will be suitable for sea trips in open water where there is rarely a situation where a SUP paddler will want to separate quickly from their board. Before using them our coaches will demonstrate how to remove the leash and make sure everyone has practiced this at the start of the session.

The tidal Thames (the Tideway) is a slow moving river (not whitewater) . It is relatively narrow with at high tide 150-200m to each bank from the centre and at low tide considerably less in most reaches It has at times powerful currents of up to 5 knots and many moorings, overhanging trees and piers which can be at some stages of the tide, and particularly on spring tides, hazardous to all river users. On the Thames Tideway a buoyancy aid is essential equipment and we will always provide these and require novice paddlers to wear them.  We mostly use low volume buoyancy aids which are suited to SUP and do not make it significantly more difficult to get back on the board. A well fitted buoyancy aid will also help protect the wearer from thermal shock and from hypothermia. If a paddler is pinned against a mooring a buoyancy aid will help them to stay afloat and not get dragged underneath the mooring where there are often obstructions. In some circumstances a buoyancy aid could worsen the situation if a swimmer is dragged by the tide underneath a pontoon or mooring - but on balance we consider it better to wear one and reduce the risk of being dragged down. We have dealt with several incidents in SUP and in kayaking where a swimmer in a buoyancy aid has been pinned against a pier or mooring and they have each time been able to maintain buoyancy until rescued.  In each case being leashed to their board or boat may have made things worse if panic had set and the quick release buckle was not found quickly in as entanglement could be fatal Reaching for a leash may require the wearer to bend at the waist, putting them at risk of submerging their head in water.  Additionally it would require a free hand, which may not be possible if they are holding onto a buoyant feature such as pontoon, pier or buoy.

We do not provide leashes for novice paddlers on the Tideway as we consider them to place a paddler at significantly increased risk of entanglement in moorings, buoys, bridges, piles and trees (for example) .  We consider that only quick release (waist or buoyancy aid attached) leashes are suitable for river use . In our opinion these should only be used by experienced paddlers who have practiced using them on the river in simulated emergency situations and would be unlikely to panic if pinned by the current and entangled in a mooring or tree branch.  A leg leash (knee of ankle) could be very difficult to remove quickly in a pinning situation because of the power of moving water against the swimmer. 

Opinions on leash use in whitewater are divided as there are many different river environments. We consider the advice below to be the most reasonable and we would follow it on whitewater rivers. 

Experienced paddlers should consider the conditions they will be paddling in before setting out when deciding on what safety equipment is appropriate.  The best advice in our opinion is provided by Trey Knight * "There is no rule that can be applied to any and all situations except to stop and think objectively about the risks and rewards of wearing a leash or lifejacket”.

For more informaiton on using the Thames for recreation please go visit the Port of London Authority website. 

*Kayak and SUP Manager at the US National Whitewater Centre  See more at: http://distressedmullet.com/2015/08/29/whitewater-sup-and-leashes/#sthash.hQY3NiCv.dpuf

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