As promised in the last blog on tombstoning, we’d like to introduce coasteering: a popular and developing activity that involves traversing the intertidal zone – or, in everyday language, scrambling around the coastline having fun.
Those taking part in the activity use a combination of scrambling, walking, swimming and jumping to complete the
journey – if you set out with the intention of staying dry, you’re not coasteering!
In its early days, coasteering was a niche activity which began in Pembrokeshire, south Wales, where there are miles of wild, rocky coastline to explore. It was run by a small number of well-managed outdoor centres; but since then the activity has spread around the UK. This growth in the sport’s popularity has brought new activity providers onto the scene.
In the summer of 2007, primarily as a result of several incidents and near misses, members of the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) began to think about the management and development of coasteering – and, in parallel, approaches to managing “tombstoning” incidents.
In response to these incidents, a joint project was launched with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS). Under the direction of the NWSF beach advisory group, an industry working group was established involving some 120 organisations and individuals providing commercial coasteering services to the public. The project aimed to reduce the number of accidents, and implement an industry standard for organisations offering coasteering activities.
How did we address the issue?
- Developing an industry group. Bringing the providers, regulators and rescue organisations together has been the key activity over the last few years.
New and emerging sports often have local pockets of knowledge and excellent practice; sharing this and embedding good practice was the objective, along with helping the industry to formalise the knowledge that was sometimes locked away.
One of the early achievements was the development of a workable definition of coasteering:
Coasteering involves traversing along a stretch of intertidal zone, often as part of an organised group activity. Participants travel across rocks and through water, using a variety of techniques including climbing, swimming and jumping into water. Coasteering guides and participants wear appropriate clothing and equipment while undertaking coasteering activities.
- Agreeing industry standards and common practice. This was no mean feat. Many of the providers had to sacrifice some of their hard-earned commercial experience and compromise.
The maxim of “not allowing excellence to be the enemy of good” proved true; many providers had first rate standards and operations, which were beyond the capability of smaller companies. The working group addressed this by developing a “safe as necessary” standard that was achievable by everyone in the industry. The group put together two documents outlining the agreed practice and information.
The guidance has proved to be influential and both documents have been adopted by the outdoor industry regulator, the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA).
- Developing capacity. One of the issues identified early in the project was the number of organisations involved in developing the sport, who were doing a good job in terms of promoting good practice, but had little resource to scale this nationally.
The original industry group has now progressed from being a NWSF working group into the National Coasteering Charter (NCC), which now includes the majority of providers and training bodies. This group will take forward the sharing and embedding of good practice across the sport.
Did the project deliver everything we wanted?
No. Not all the training providers are currently involved, nor are some of the other wider industry groups. But, and this is an important “but”, the key providers are involved and they have a common vision of improving the safety and quality of the sector.
However, the wider impact of the project shouldn’t be underestimated.
The process itself and the fact that an industry group overcame its difficulties to work together through what were contentious issues and achieve a good number of excellent outcomes have been noted both in the UK and internationally.
The coasteering project was presented at the World Conference on Drowning Prevention in Vietnam (look out for a blog on this event soon!).
So, what next?
The NCC will take over governance of the key documents with RoSPA, the RNLI, the MCA and other members of the NWSF taking more of a watching brief. The NCC, if it grows as promised, looks to be the best forum for managing the issues associated with coasteering and as such it will have a formal reporting route through the NWSF and, we hope, through other groups.
For more information about coasteering:
- NWSF coasteering skills and competency framework
- NWSF safety and risk management guidance for coasteering
- AALA use of guidance.
Coasteering is great fun, and a unique way of experiencing our country’s beautiful coastline. Get out there and have a go!
David Walker, RoSPA’s information manager and NWSF member