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Safety is the most important part of organising an event. This section of the toolkit is designed to provide clubs and event organisers with an effective guide on planning and running safe events.

It is understood that each event and location is different but the basic principles of event safety are well known.

Event Safety at The Washburn

Roles and Responsibilities


Any Organising Committee is expected to take responsibility for the ‘duty of care’ of all participants, officials, volunteers and spectators at their event. The key words that are used within sport are to ‘take all reasonable action’. For a small, local event this is likely to be different to a large, national or international event. British Canoeing requires all event organisers to appoint a Paddlesport Safety Officer to their committee.


The appointed Safety Officer’s role is in an advisory capacity whose work is led by the committee. It is important to note that the ‘duty of care’ responsibility still rests with the event committee as a whole and not solely on the shoulders of the Safety Officer.

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The appointed Safety Officer’s role is in an advisory capacity whose work is led by the committee. It is important to note that the ‘duty of care’ responsibility still rests with the event committee as a whole and not solely on the shoulders of the Safety Officer.

The aim of the safety work strand is to provide a proportionate and appropriate level of safety management for the events. The Safety Officer’s role is to oversee, or undertake the production of, Safety Plans and Event Risk Assessments. The role and input is expected to reflect usual good event management practice.

The Safety Officer shall ensure that the competition or event has the necessary systems to report and identify when, and where, accidents/incidents happened.  It should also consider how it would recover distressed paddlers quickly, provide timely and appropriate medical attention or consider stopping the event.

This can be identified in the event’s emergency response plan and be part of the briefing to event participants.

There is a general commitment that all officials should ensure that the event takes place in safe conditions. 


In law we have a “Duty of Care” to others. This means that we owe a duty to our ‘neighbours’ not to cause them injury by our negligent acts and omissions.  The duty of care applies to all individuals in and around the events and not just the organisers.

Organisers are not expected to guarantee the safety of others, merely to act reasonably.   To take all reasonable action to ensure the safe running of the events for officials, participants, other water users and the public at large.

Assessment of Risk

As part of your event planning, a risk assessment will be expected to be developed to cover all aspects of the event from water and land activity. It should also include all the parties from paddlers, volunteers and spectators.

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The risk assessment is a record that the organising committee has considered the risks and developed actions to manage and control those risks. The risk assessment can then be used to inform the planning of the event. It can also inform your event documentation, such as safe operating procedures, emergency plan, etc.   

As a note of caution to all organising committees, any actions or control measures identified in your risk assessment must be delivered.

British Canoeing Safety Advice - Paddlesafer

British Canoeing has produced a safety directory called Paddlesafer that provides guidance on many aspects of paddling and the activities that surround it. It has been written in such a way that clubs and event organisers can use it to guide their decisions on safety.

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Paddlesafer is designed to be a practical tool which not only provides guidance but includes information sheets, checklists, templates and examples of good practice that can inform or be used directly in the running of your event.

As well as covering the areas in this toolkit in more detail, it provides information on a range of topics including:

  • Equipment

  • Safety management - risk assessments, safety planning, emergency planning, incident reporting

  • Medical and first aid considerations

  • Specialist and discipline guidance

Paddlesafer is updated each year and can be found on the British Canoeing website, along with the safety case studies and safety alerts. All Safety Officers for events are also expected to sign up to the Safety Officer Newsletter, so they get to hear about the latest news updates from British Canoeing.

Event Safety Training

Many events that run under the umbrella of, and are insured by, British Canoeing are required to have a nominated Safety Officer. For events to which paddlers are openly invited and/or the event is publicly promoted, the Safety Officer is required to have attended a 3-hour Event Safety Management training course run by British Canoeing or the National Associations.

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This training is designed to cover the essentials in event management and the steps which need to be taken in the organisation, running and planning of the event. It follows a syllabus that includes:-

  • Awareness of safety management and duty of care 

  • Guidance and support to mitigate risk using the concept of an ‘event span of control’. 

  • Examination of potential safety issues using scenario planning

  • Process to gain authority to run an event

  • Pre event considerations and planning

  • “On the day” safety considerations

  • Post event actions and event management review

  • Common methods for managing risk

  • Greater appreciation of the need for span of control

  • Develop the use of ‘CALM’ in dynamic risk management

If you would like to attend or arrange an Event safety training workshop, please contact Craig Duff on [email protected].

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Medical and First Aid Plan

When planning an event, it is important to consider the first aid and medical cover you will need. As a minimum, an event should have on site:

  • A trained first aider

  • An appropriate first aid kit

  • A means of communication and knowledge of where the event is taking place

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If the event is a larger scale or covers a bigger area, e.g. a marathon race, then there may be additional things to consider such as:

  • How many first aiders are required and who is providing the cover (volunteers or external provider)?

  • Is any additional medical cover required?

  • Where is the medical cover located and how do people access it? 

  • What are the plans for an emergency situation? 

The answers to some of the more detailed questions can be worked through in the medical plan template below. Additional information is also available in Paddlesafer sections 3 and 4.

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Event Safety Documentation

All events require a degree of documentation, notices and briefings. It is beneficial to have verbal briefings written up so they can be both a record of what the organiser says and to share them with paddlers, competitors, team leaders and volunteers before the event starts.

The following is a summary of the documentation that an Event Organising Committee should put in place to support the effective organisation and running of an event from a safety management perspective.  It is not intended to be exhaustive and not all elements will be required for all events.  Once completed, it can be reviewed easily after the event and updated for future events.

1.  Event Risk Assessment

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This should be discussed with, and approved by, the Organising Committee to agree the hazards and controls and should then be published.  The risk assessment forms the basis of the controls you put in place and the safety documentation which supports this.  Additional information is in section 3 of Paddlesafer

2.  Entry Form

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From a safety perspective, there are a few things you need to ensure are on the entry form. These include:

  • Contact details - so that you can communicate necessary safety information prior to the event

  • Emergency contact details

  • Confirmation of insurance, i.e via British Canoeing/National Association membership

  • Confirmation of any prior experience requirements 

  • Confirmation that they understand the risks and the expectations of them at the event

Additional information on entry forms and data collection is available in the participant interaction and compliance sections of the toolkit.

3.  Instructions for participants and volunteers

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These should include all the information that the paddler, clubs and volunteers need for the event.  The depth of information will depend on the nature and scale of the event. 

As the Organising Committee develops the instructions, it is important that safety aspects are included and done in consultation with the Safety Officer. These should include items like:

-        The course and rules of the river or navigation requirements

-        Any special points of danger on, or near, the course/route

-        Safety boats and first aid positions and how to summon help

-        Emergency landing and shelter sites where paddlers can be taken off the water

-        Medical support arrangements

-        Essential equipment and checks

-        How to retire/withdraw

-        Marshalling instructions

-        Safety plan and water evacuation plan, informed by an event risk assessment

-        Change of course/suspension/cancellation procedures

-        Welfare and Safeguarding arrangements

-        Racing rules and any sanctions for contraventions

Additional information might include: venue travel details, parking and boat storage information, hire boats, changing and toilet facilities, food and drink facilities, information points, photography and the racing programme.

A copy of these instructions should be made available to paddlers, competitors, clubs and officials, in as many forms as possible, including posting it on the event webpage, having it on notice boards at the event and as part of a verbal briefing.  

Providing information in advance allows time for people to consider questions and will help to ensure everyone understands their role.

4.  Course maps

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This will detail the race/event course, special points of danger (for example, weirs, other watercraft, zones, sandbanks, obstructions) no-go zones, the location of emergency landing sites.   This should be included in both the participant and volunteer information.

5.  Welfare and Safeguarding Statement

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Information on welfare arrangements, who your Welfare Officer is at the venue and how to contact them.  This should be included in the Instructions for Participants (3) above.

 6.  Safety Operating Plan and Emergency Action Plan

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The safety plan explains what safety measures are in place, such as how many marshals/safety boats there are and where they will be, what to do when things go wrong contingencies (missing paddlers or if the weather get worse), who the key decision makers are, communication methods (radio, WhatsApp, mobile etc.), signals for abandonment of the events.  This will include the process for reporting of any accidents or near misses to the event organiser and through the British Canoeing online reporting form.

The Emergency Action Plan describes what will happen if something major goes wrong and the emergency services are brought in. It should state who the key people are that will work with the services. Additional information is available in section 3.9 of Paddlesafer.

7.  Communication and Event Contacts

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Names of key people that are critical to safety management and their contacts for the day. This may include numbers from external agencies like the Canals and River Trust, or the Environment Agency. 

It is helpful to note all methods of communication, VHF channels, mobile phone numbers, etc..

8.  Notice to Water Authorities/Local Authorities/local user groups

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Some events may wish, or be required, to have a river restriction that diverts the main navigation channel. This will require a notice that is published by the Environment Agency, the Canal and River Trust or the local port authority. Sharing your safety documentation with outside agencies is recommended.  In the event of a major incident, it allows them to make better and faster decisions which may save someone’s life. 

For larger events, the local Safety Advisory Group (SAG) run by the local authority would need to be notified about the event and would want to see all the relevant information and documentation. They will then provide any additional advice on public safety that they feel is required. For the very largest events, organisers may be asked to attend meetings but, for the vast majority of events, this will not be necessary. 

It may also be helpful to get agreement from local user groups to keep the water clear during your event.

 9.  Copy of Event Insurance

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For all British Canoeing events run under the regions, the discipline committees or an affiliated club, this cover is for £10 million liability and can be accessed via the British Canoeing website

 10.   Decision making matrix guide

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This can be prepared in advance to assist risk management decision making on the day.  Many events build environmental condition matrixes; these are location specific and often take years of experience to build.

The decision to cancel or make changes to an event in the days and hours before the start is hard. Knowing who should be part of your advisory group and making sure all the key decision makers can come together is essential.

Below is an example of one from the non-tidal Thames.

Some larger events will undertake scenario/readiness testing ahead of their event to test their decision making and communication capacity on the day. For events of over 250 people, some form of scenario testing is recommended.

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Incident reporting

If you are running an event that is using British Canoeing liability insurance, you are required to report any incident or accident that might result in a future claim through the British Canoeing online incident form. It is also effective practice to report incidents, accidents or near misses. It helps us improve the quality of training and guidance we share across the sport. Please encourage people to use the online reporting form.

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Reviewing Safety Procedures

At the end of the event it is important to take the time to review what went well and what changes you need to your safety operating procedures and systems.