Swamping and capsizing of rafted canoes and safety boat

Location: Poole Harbour, Dorset, England.

Accident Investigation Report 22/2005

Read our marine accident investigation report, which includes what happened, actions taken, and recommendations:

CanoeSwampingIncident.pdf (565.00 kb)

Annex (1,588.07 kb)


On 6 April 2005, a group of middle managers taking part in a corporate team-building exercise in Poole Harbour, ended up in the water after their canoes were swamped in choppy seas. The group, comprising 8 men and women, boarded an accompanying safety boat in an attempt to escape the cold water and to aid their recovery by a passing vessel. The safety boat also capsized.

Safety Issues

Our investigation found that BOC’s management team had not undertaken a specific risk assessment for this exercise, so the risk of swamping had not been considered. Consequently, no control measures had been put in place to prevent it happening. The likelihood of an accident was compounded by the safety instructor deciding to undertake the crossing despite unsuitable weather conditions. Opportunities existed for both instructors to abandon at various points during the exercise, but these were not properly considered. The reason for this can be partly explained by the safety instructor’s lack of experience in leading this particular exercise, and his determination to recover lost time


Recommendations have been made to BOC, The Adventure Activities Licensing Authority and other associated agencies regarding the benefits of validating risk assessments by scenario-based training, and the need to become more influential in exercise planning when a “third party” manages the course. Further recommendations have been made regarding the need for prior agreement of an alternative plan should an exercise need to be aborted, the importance of recognising when a “normal” recovery situation develops into an emergency and the leader’s empowerment to alert the emergency services.

This report was published in December 2005.

Published 23 January 2015