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Safety calls after death of kayaker in sea loch

COASTGUARDS have issued renewed warnings of the dangers of sea kayaking after a young man died during an outing on Loch Fyne.

The man, aged in his 20s, died in hospital after being thrown from the vessel into the freezing waters with two other men during strong winds early yesterday.

It is the second canoe tragedy in Scotland in the past three months. In August, Ewen and Jamie Beaton, their father, also Ewen, and friend, Gracie Mackay, died after a wave overturned their canoe on Loch Gairloch in the West Highlands.

It was not immediately clear if a similar event had caused the capsizing on the Argyll loch, or whether the men were wearing full life-jackets or buoyancy aids.

Belfast Coastguard, which co-ordinated the operation as Clyde Coastguard is being wound down, said the trio were found relatively quickly with the help of an RNLI inshore lifeboat from Tighnabruaich and a Stornoway-based search-and-rescue helicopter.

The kayakers had been on the Argyll loch in a force-five wind with moderate visibility when the accident happened at 6am.

The three men were picked up at the water's edge. The two survivors are thought to be recovering in Mid Argyll Hospital in Lochilphead. The victim's family have been informed.

Steve Carson, watch manager at Belfast Coastguard, said: "The sea around the UK coast is cold at all times of the year and the weather can close in quickly, so check weather forecasts and ensure your skill levels are appropriate for where you are kayaking.

"If you fall in the water you will gasp involuntarily, so make sure you wear appropriate buoyancy and appropriate clothing such as a drysuit.

"Check equipment is functioning properly, that your distress flares are in date and are stowed in a watertight container where you can reach them.

"If you have an emergency you'll need to call the Coastguard as quickly as possible. Carry a VHF marine band radio and practice with it."

Strathclyde Police said inquiries into the incident were ongoing.

Five-year-old Ewen Beaton and his brother Jamie, two, died when their canoe capsized on Loch Gairloch on August 26.

The body of their father Ewen, from the Beauly area of Ross-shire, has yet to be recovered .

They were on an outing with the Mackay family, from Muir of Ord in Inverness-shire.

Gracie Mackay, five, died in Glasgow's Royal Hospital for Sick Children.

Her father, Garry Mackay, who survived, has called for people to use lifejackets rather than the buoyancy aids all of the children were wearing.

Claire Knifton, technical adviser to the Scottish Canoe Association, stressed the importance of training and being prepared and equipped when out in the water.

She said: "It's not the sport that's wrong, it's the level of knowledge and preparedness.

"If you have three suitably trained people together then the sea kayak is a very seaworthy craft. But it does rely on everyone knowing exactly what to do to help each other out if there is a problem.

"That is where I would recommend that early on people get training courses in personal skills but also in towing and rescuing and those aspects.

"If you are not suitably trained and equipped it can be very hazardous, but there is no problem with experienced, equipped sea kayakers being out today."

Ms Knifeton said the issue of whether life jackets were more appropriate than buoyancy aids was contentious.

She added: "What we teach on British Canoe Union courses is to wear a buoyancy aid, because it keeps you warm because it covers your body more, it protects you from an impact and it allows you the freedom of movement to paddle well.

"But what it doesn't do is allow you to be immersed in the water for a long time."

"And because we are working on the principle that people are in small groups and they are trained to rescue each other, we are working on the principle that you are not in the water for a long time."

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