eyes that save lives

the MNA Boat Club’s waterwatch initiative

Eyes That Save Lives

Some ten years ago the MNA Boat Club launched a maritime safety & surveillance scheme whereby members undertook to act as "watchkeepers afloat” to "Spot, Plot, Report and Record" any incidents, potential incidents or hazards whenever they took their boats out thereby acting in a very similar manner to that undertaken by the National Coastwatch Institution's (NCI) watchkeepers working ashore from their look-outs around the coast. Known as “SeaVue” the scheme had the support of the MCA and the RNLI but it operated almost exclusively only around the coastal waters of the UK and hardly extended inland at all,

Around the same time the RNLI launched their “Respect the Water” campaign to reduce the number (circa 200+) of accidental drownings around the coast of the UK by 50% by 2024 but once again the emphasis was on “the coast” where the RNLI maintains Lifeboat Stations rather than on inland waterways where some 70% of accidental drownings actually occur!

So three years ago the MNA Boat Club (MNABC) established an “operational partnership” with the RNLI for MNABC members to promote the Respect the Water campaign and extend the coverage of that initiative to include inland waterways, and at the same time the MNABC changed the name of  their scheme from SeaVue to the now more appropriate title of  “WaterWatch”.

Although an integral part of the Merchant Navy Association national charity with its 2,000 plus members, The MNA Boat Club is a relatively small organisation with only some 220 members so the idea that Club members alone could provide a nationwide surveillance service was essentially unrealistic and it was therefore  agreed that we would start by operating a “pilot scheme” in just one of our Boat Club regions, namely East Anglia where we already enjoyed a very good relationship as an “Affiliated Club member of  the Norfolk & Suffolk Boating Association (NSBA)

So we approached the NSBA to see if they might be interested in some kind of collaboration  with the MNA Boat Club to promote the WaterWatch Scheme in East Anglia, and in particular on The Broads, and to our delight they responded to that idea enthusiastically with the suggestion of a “partnership”  between the MNABC and the  NSBA to promote and operate WaterWatch on The Broads; this is now  firmly established with a representative of the NSBA co-opted  as a flag officer of the MNA Boat Club and a representative of the MNA Boat Club now as an elected member of the NSBA General Purposes committee.

MNABC/NSBA Partnership Arrangement

waterwatch eyes that save lives

Members of the MNA Boat Club and individual members of the NSBA who participate in the scheme are known as “WaterWatch Crew Members”.  They are briefed to act as the “eyes and ears” for the emergency services and the Broads Authority whenever they take to the water to:

  • SPOT any craft or persons in difficulty, or any actual or potential hazards
  • PLOT the relevant position
  • REPORT the facts to HM Coastguard and/or the Broads Authority
  • RECORD the incident by completing a WaterWatch Incident Report Form which is sent both to the Boat Club and to the NSBA in order to enable them both to monitor incidents and hazards and follow up developments and corrective actions.

The National Water Safety Forum (NWSF)

In March 2021 the MNA Boat Club’s WaterWatch Scheme became a member of the National Water Safety Forum  which is a UK-focused, voluntary network, working together in order to reduce water-related deaths and associated harm.

The NWSF was established in 2004 following a Government review into water safety. It sought to bring together a number of pre-existing national groups with the ambition of creating a ‘one-stop shop’ for the prevention of drowning and water safety harm in the UK, recognising the broad range of existing stakeholder groups, their respective contributions, and their own brands and values, often towards charitable objectives. Members include the MCA, RNLI, RLSS, The Broads Authority, the Environment Agency etc. etc.,

Beyond our “pilot scheme” on The Broads

The success of our joint venture with the NSBA now begs the question “could we expand our WaterWatch initiative to more inland waterways through collaboration with other potential partners? “

So if any boating associations, owners clubs  or other interested boating organisations  around the UK believe that this initiative by the MNA Boat Club may deserve your organisation’s support as a potential partner I’d be delighted to hear from you!

Clive Edwards, Commodore, Merchant Navy Association Boat Club  

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About Clive Edwards

Clive has been a Coastguard Rescue Officer, Station Manager of a Coastwatch Station, and a RNLI Water Safety Officer. He is Commodore of the MNA Boat CLub, and was recently elected Chairman of the Institute of Seamanship. Clive now does most of his boating on the Norfolk Broads, where he and his wife Lois keep their boat "Elsa ll" and carry out safety boat duties as a Guardship for the famous annual Three Rivers Race. They also undertake shore crew duties for Hemsby Independent Lifeboat Station and their "Lifeboat for the Broads"