Cornwall’s working harbours are not playgrounds, warn harbour masters

Cornwall Council’s harbour masters, who are in charge of some of Cornwall’s most popular harbours including Newquay, Truro, Penzance, and St Ives, are warning of the dangers of treating harbours like playgrounds.

Cornwall Council Maritime Manager Chris Jones said: “Some people are continuing to ignore safety signs banning diving, jumping into harbours, and swimming. Unfortunately, people don’t always appreciate that these by laws and signs are there for a very good reason – to stop people getting seriously injured or even killed.”  

The issue has come to a head in Newquay with a decision to ban the public from accessing the harbour’s North Quay in an attempt to ward off the prospect of someone getting seriously injured. 

Fishermen and other bona fide harbour users will be able to access North Quay via a gate with a coded padlock, but it will no longer be open to all.

Newquay Harbour Master Kimberley Johnson said: “We don’t want to stop anyone having a good time but it’s important to realise that this is a working harbour. Which means tombstoning, swimming and effectively treating the harbour as a playground is dangerous both to those doing it, and those who are affected by such behaviour, like our fishermen, who rely on the harbour for their livelihood.”

Harbour Master for Truro and Penryn Mark Killingback said: “Thrill seekers that take part in tombstoning put themselves and others at risk for their entertainment. I have been there in the past when ambulances have arrived and spoken to parents of injured youths. It’s not something you think will happen to you but sadly it can, and it does.”

Penzance Harbour Master James Broughton says: “We are a busy working harbour. 

“Our main points of concern are two-fold – we, like other harbours, have seen an influx of yachtsmen and leisure craft this summer who will rightly be concentrating on the arrival procedure rather than looking out for unexpected swimmers. Swimmers in the harbour who often swim alone, without using hi vis swim caps or floats, are putting themselves and others at risk as they can’t easily be spotted. There have been several incidents where swimmers have had close encounters with large commercial ships whilst arriving or departing from the harbour.

“Our second concern, again as it is for all harbours, is tombstoning which can be highly dangerous as you don’t know what there may be under the water.

“We have signs around the harbour saying no jumping, diving, swimming, tombstoning and to warn of motorised craft in operation, but we can’t be there 24/7 to remonstrate with people who ignore the signs.

“Most people understand the reasons why these activities are not allowed in the harbour but there are always some that think they know better.

“There is a dedicated swim area off Jubilee Pool in open water, and Abbey Basin for swimming and paddle boarding. Abbey Basin has been a huge success and it is so nice to walk past and see all ages from the very young upwards, enjoying the safe waters.”

Councillor Loïc Rich, Chair of the Cornwall Harbours Board, said: “For their own safety, we are urging swimmers to stay away from harbours, which can get very busy, especially at this time of the year. We also see people tombstoning which has gained lots of attention for the wrong reasons, with a number of people being seriously hurt across the country.

“We are asking anyone who is planning on jumping into the water to put their safety first. I’d also ask that parents keep track of their children’s activities and remind them of the dangers of tombstoning.

“Submerged objects may not be visible, the depth of the water can dramatically change, and you don’t know what hazards may be lurking under the surface. Water temperature can also cause cold water shock which makes it difficult to swim. Jumping from height into the water can and has caused serious injury and death.”

If you do want to jump from height into the sea the advice is to join a coasteering group with a professional and reputable adventure centre. A mix of scrambling, climbing, traversing and cliff jumping around the coast with a professional guide means you can learn about the risks involved and have a good experience.

If you or anyone gets into difficulties around our coast, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

If you’re unsure on harbour byelaws, which if violated could lead to enforcement action being taken, including prosecution of offenders, contact your local harbour office. 

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