Retailer John Lewis u-turn over inflatable toy guidance amid sea safety fears
While the full circumstances are yet to be revealed, the latest tragedy off the Norfolk coast has highlighted the potential danger of taking inflatable toys out to see. But what safety guidance are the shops selling these items giving to customers? Chris Bishiop investigates.
A major retailer is now warning customers not to use inflatable toys on the sea in light of the death of a Norfolk mother, however others are still sending out mixed messages regarding safety.
It comes after a 37-year-old mother from Swaffham drowned when she swam out to rescue her son after he got into difficulty on an inflatable kayak at Waxham Beach on Sunday.
The death of Danielle Chilvers prompted fresh warnings to parents not to allow their children to use inflatables off the coast.
But days later, department store John Lewis’s website was offering an inflatable whale, saying: “This sea dwelling friend is quick and easy to inflate and features two heavy-duty handles for holding on to when you’re surfing the ocean waves.”
After being contacted by the EDP, a spokesman for the chain said the wording would be amended.
It now reads: “This killer-cool friend is quick and easy to inflate and features two heavy-duty handles for holding on when you’re surfing the waves of the big blue pool.
“Good to know: For use in enclosed pools, do not use in the sea or open water.”
Each summer, Norfolk’s lifeboats are called out to rescue dozens of beach-goers, usually children, after they are swept out to sea.
Nationally, the RNLI dealt with 350 incidents involving inflatables in 2019. They included a dramatic rescue after three girls were swept out to sea on a kayak off Brancaster.
Yet there remains mixed messages from retailers when it comes to using inflatables safely.
Online retailer Studio.co.uk says of its inflatables: “Warning! This item is intended for use in the swimming pool only. Not for use in the sea.”
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Sainsbury’s warns shoppers browsing its inflatable ring and unicorn: “Only to be used in water in which the child is within its depth and under adult supervision.”
One inflatable kayak for sale on Amazon was accompanied by the warning: “Only to be used in water in which the child is within its depth and under adult supervision.”
Argos suggests its inflatables can be used on the sea, but adds: “If you use this at the seaside it’s advised to use it in a protected area of the sea shore (no offshore winds, no currents). The recommended safe distance to shore is 10m.”
Beach goods shops around the coast still sell inflatables, along with seaside staples like buckets and spades.
Sajid Latif, owner at Pantaloon, in Sheringham High Street, said every inflatable he sold came with a warning it should only be used under parental supervision.
John Nichols at Little John’s on Beach Road, Hemsby, said his toys came with warnings they were not for use in offshore winds.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said: “Many inflatables are being used at beaches in the UK. Unfortunately, these inflatables are not well suited to the coast and can cause a serious risk to your safety.
“We can’t really comment on individual products other than to say that inflatables should really only be used in pools.”
RoSPA warns strong currents or winds can rapidly sweep inflatables and people out to sea.
It says there have also been cases of people panicking and abandoning the inflatable, immersing themselves in cold water, where shock can make it difficult to swim.
North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker said: “Our north Norfolk coast is a beautiful area but the sea is very dangerous.
“The water quickly gets deep, there are fast-moving tides and children using inflatables are not aware of the deep water, the currents and the tides.
“Children’s inflatables that are sold in shops are more suitable for use in a swimming pool and not on our seas.”
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has also warned people to confine inflatable use to pools.
“They may look like fun,” it said. “But they pose a real danger at the beach as currents and offshore winds can sweep you out to sea in the blink of an eye.”
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