The OCSG is a bunch of like-minded people who like sailing canoes and choose to meet up now and then to sail together. Some years ago the group chose to become affiliated to canoeing’s National Governing Body (British Canoeing) for the benefits provided (such as credibility, profile, support, advice, insurance), but good safe practices would have been promoted anyway and the more “official” status with its rights and responsibilities is not the only or main reason for the ongoing attention paid to “Safety Issues.”
Generally OCSG members tend to be open-minded free spirits, with a streak of independence. Many will go sailing in their canoes at times other than just at OCSG meets. Therefore we judge that canoe sailors need to be self-reliant and able to manage their own safety as well as being able to rescue themselves. For these reasons our activities are set up so that safety/rescue boats are not needed (and therefore not provided, other than at a very few venues such as Rutland Water, where they happen to be provided anyway for other water activities – we do not expect to need/use them).
Therefore the skills of self-sufficiency are important for everyone to understand and develop. The club undertakes to provide guidance and advice for canoe-sailing activities, which are likely to manage down to an acceptable level the inherent risks of sailing small craft, .
Different people will aspire to go canoe-sailing in many different environments, from a small lake to the open sea; so the risks associated with the range of situations also vary. Therefore the range of skills required have been identified and developed to help canoe-sailors be safer. The Competence Levels were introduced in 2006 to help canoe-sailors understand what they should be able to do in order to match their aspirations: that is “if I want to go for a trip up the lake, I need to be able to do this, this and this – so I can look after myself when alone and help others out when sailing in a small group.”
The Competence Levels can and should be used to help choose what activity/outing you should take part in and who else you go with, particularly at OCSG meets. Making the right decision about what you do is important, so that you don’t find yourself in a situation that you and the others in the party cannot deal with – in terms of sailing or rescuing yourself or others. Being over ambitious or unaware of what you are doing when sailing a canoe, can result in others having to shoulder an unreasonable burden of responsibility to assist – sailing buddies and/or event organisers have found themselves in awkward and demanding situations.
Some would say that this is just a matter of ‘common sense’ – but our experience shows that some people need informed guidance to help them develop this ‘common sense’. Surely it is reasonable to encourage a newcomer, who hasn’t sailed their canoe before, to only practice close to base, with the support of a more experienced canoe-sailor not too far away? Or for someone who has only recently developed their upwind sailing ability in easy conditions, to be discouraged from heading off on a 5 mile trip up the lake when the forecast is for a freshening breeze? Or for someone, who can only just about cope with modest trips in moderate inland conditions, to be encouraged to further develop their skills on lakes, before venturing out onto coastal waters?
We are fortunate in the UK to enjoy a great deal of freedom to do what we like and OCSG members are no exception to this. If you choose to “do your own thing” then no one is going to stop you, even at meets – all the rest of us can do is make strong recommendations, because this minimises the risk of mishaps provided the advice is heeded. However, if they don’t then such a person needs to be aware that they will be operating outside the auspices of the club and must take full responsibility for themselves. They should also realise that they will be causing additional stress and anxiety to the others at the meet, because we all have a duty of care to each other, whether or not it is expected.