Until the Saturday MV Templar accident, boat cruises have been some of the safest forms of having fun. From Port Bell to various islands, boat cruises became a definition of the festive season.
Much as these parties have a level of risk associated with them, very few times do those enjoying such gatherings think about them since for many, traversing waters is only dangerous on a canoe. If it is a bigger than a canoe and has an engine, all is well.
According to yatchingworld.com, choosing a boat for an offshore cruise is a decision that cannot be taken lightly. The commonest caution known to professional sailors is the fact that the size of the boat always matters since it is a belief that larger boats have less chances of capsizing.
Safety in pools
George William Mukasa, the vice president of Uganda Lifesaving Federation, breaks down safety measures into two types: natural and those built by humans such as swimming pools.
In a swimming pool, he says, all those swimming must be registered and supervised. The pool must also be licensed.
“However, although many policies exist, they do not really work and because of this, only a few swimming pools are licensed,” Mukasa says, adding that most pools in the country are operating without licences and most operators go ahead and build pools without applying for a licence.
“There is no policy on public swimming pools and what we have at the moment is an act that has for years not been passed,” he says. For instance, he says, a swimming pool should have accessibility to the parking lot, washrooms, monthly checks and public health inspections.
Lakes and boat cruises
When it comes to the lake, Mukasa says things differ. For instance, people swim near to the shore and in most cases even a case involving a drowning person is handled differently.
“While working at a swimming pool, as humans we have a control of the situation, yet in a lake, we have control of only 30 per cent since the current and weather can change at any time,” he says.
For the case of boat cruises, he says, the problem starts with the advertisement. “Organisers use pictures of American dream liners which in most cases paint a different picture of the boat the people will be using. “But regardless of what you have paid for the cruise, one should be able to assess the vessel they are using and sense danger,” he says referring to the alleged state of the killer boat before the accident.
A boat, he says, must have an incident commander. Many times it is this person’s responsibility to involve the people around and give instructions on what should be done in case of danger.
“Above him, you will need an engineer on board, diver and rescuer,” he adds.
Much as Uganda has not updated some of its laws since the colonial era, even those that exist and can help are barely followed.
For instance, if the old Maritime law is followed, no ship should go out on a water body if there is no visibility or if it does not have a communication form. Its radar must also be visible to other boats.
Life jackets and guards
Catherine Nakimuli, a swimming coach and lifeguard, says safety is first the responsibility of the person going to travel on water. “This person should endeavour to know where life jackets are kept and make sure they wear it before the journey starts,” she says.
Nakimuli says in Uganda, we have some credible life jackets but it is the quality that sets them apart; “Some people are duplicating them and selling those packed with cloth instead of foam.”
But she says there are two reasons some revellers on Saturday died even when they had life jackets. “Some people had fake life jackets while some could have worn theirs the wrong way,” she says, adding that a number of people do not have the best life jackets because the best quality is expensive. “The best quality jackets go for Shs500,000 and people organising such events are not willing to invest that much.”
The right life jacket
Nakimuli says while choosing a life jacket, one should take one that corresponds with their body weight but should also be careful of what they are wearing.
“Clothes we wear to some of these places such as buggy jeans and heavy boots are likely to weigh you down. Also, some hairstyles might cause a situation where your hair easily gets stuck in places,” she warns.
Much as there are no known standards or ratios of lifeguards to passengers on a boat, Nakimuli says it would be good for a lifeguard to be in charge of three passengers.