How to Choose a Safe Water Sports Operator

Surf school

Water sports rental companies and operators are peppered across the coasts, lakes and rivers of every tourist destination around the world. These days, you can go skiing, kayaking, take surfing lessons, diving and just about anything else. But how do you know if the people who are taking you out to sea are trustworthy? We'll tell you...

  • Do

    1. CHECK FOR SAFETY CREDENTIALS. If you are going to be putting your life in the hands of a water sports tour guide (whether it's to go water skiing, scuba diving or white water rafting), make sure that the pros who are taking you have qualifications. Even if it's just a basic first-aid course or access to lifeguard assistance (in the case of a surf lesson or something similar), you don't want to sign any indemnity forms without evidence of some formal safety plan. There just has to be an emergency assistance authority somewhere close.

    2. CHECK FOR OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS. When you sign up for a day of fun in the sun, the sports operator should take down a few crucial details: your name, age, any previous medical conditions and contact details. This plays a major role in the case of something going wrong. Your insurance and their insurance will not provide cover if there is no formal documentation. It's not nice to plan for disaster when you are signing up for something fun, but it's absolutely vital to have these checks in place.

    3. ASK: IS THERE A SAFETY BRIEF? Your instructor needs to know how experienced you are before you even dip your toe in the water. Be wary if they are not interested in finding out. Most importantly though, there should be a safety brief before you start doing anything - even slow boat tours through the harbour have this, so it is definitely a standard basic.

      The sea conditions can change very quickly. Elements like currents, tides, the wind and swell direction all play a role in the ebb and flow of the ocean's moods. A professional would be foolish not to be mindful of this!

    4. CHECK OUT YOUR GEAR. Take a look at what you are going to be using before heading out into the middle of the ocean. You should not be using a helmet that has been patched up from repeatedly being mowed into a nearby jetty. It is not that you need the best sports equipment out there or something flashy, but you want to know that whatever is protecting you will continue to do so.

      Sun Damage is a big one to look out for. Everything eventually perishes in the sun, from life jackets to helmets and surf boards. When something as important as a life jacket is on the brink of falling apart, it is not going to be of any use to you in the water.

    5. ASK: IS THE AREA SAFE? If a water sports company is operating in a public area, check that they have the right legal permit or permission to do so. Surfing lessons at the beach should not be a problem, but if you are going on a jet ski or rubber duck ride, there needs to be some kind of commercial license to do so. If the sports tour company is operating on a crowded beach, how do they maintain a safe distance between others? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask.

    6. WATCH. Take some time to watch how the tour company operates. Take note of the people who are skiing or surfing, and then ask them how they enjoyed it when they get out of the water. You are almost guaranteed an honest response.

    7. ENSURE YOU CAN COMMUNICATE WITH THE INSTRUCTORS. If, at any stage, you start to feel uncomfortable, make sure there is a way to let the instructors know. This may be a system of hand signals or just a whistle attached to your life jacket, but being able to communicate is very important. The water can be overwhelming for anyone not used to swimming for long periods.

    8. READ THE CONDITIONS. Your instructors and guides should be in touch with the elements - the winds, water temperature tides, wave conditions and phases of the moon (for spring tides). Make sure they know how the conditions are changing and that they brief you and the others on what to expect.

  • Don't

    1. USE A COMPANY THAT ALLOWS PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN DRINKING TO JOIN. It might seem very obvious, but any tour operator that allows people who have been drinking to water ski, surf, dive, jet ski or tube is putting several lives at risk. If you see that someone is drunk and participating in the watersport, report them to the instructors. If the instructors are fine with that, pick up your bag and leave. Then spread the word of their irresponsibility.

    2. TAKE IT TOO SERIOUSLY. Don't be put off by the level of thought and preparation. These serious questions are there to make you aware and safer in the long run. Remember to have fun and be relaxed!

Last Updated: August 2011