Schoolgirl who drowned didn't stand a chance, her parents say as they launch safety code

Telegraph Reporters
Emily Gardner, from Gloucester, was just 14 when she died in Brixham, south Devon, on May 2, 2015   

A schoolgirl who drowned when her ill-fitting buoyancy aid snagged on part of an overturned speedboat didn't stand a chance, her parents have said as they launched a safety code aimed at preventing future tragedies. 

Emily Gardner, from Gloucester, was just 14 when she died in Brixham, south Devon, on May 2, 2015.

Her death prompted her parents, Clive and Debbie Gardner, to launch Emily's Code, which highlights safety issues for small boat owners and users, at the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Suzuki Dinghy Show in London.

Speaking on Saturday at the launch, the couple said something as simple as checking that your buoyancy aid or lifejacket fits properly could save your life.

Emilys Code | 10 key safety messages

Mr Gardner added that he and his wife have come to terms with the fact that due to a "catalogue of errors... Emily didn't really stand a chance". 

"Many parents like us have no awareness of recreational boating safety guidelines and have never used a boat before," they said.

"When Emily went on a day trip with her friends we were reassured that safety was paramount and that the equipment was top notch.

"If just one family sees this and takes action to protect their children on the water then Emily's Code will have succeeded and Emily's name will live on."

Mrs Gardner described her daughter as a "real thrill seeker" who was her "best friend" and a "beautiful girl" as she launched the code.

From the catalogue of errors that took place we now know Emily didn’t really stand a chance

Clive Gardner

"Emily was my best friend, a beautiful girl with model appearance who always maintained a high standard," she said. "She was very protective of her siblings Katie and Todd and loved her cousins and her beloved dog Archie.

"I was proud to call Emily my daughter and I know she was also a loyal and valuable friend to many. We both had so many hopes and dreams for her. She was planning her prom and her first car which she hoped to be a red mini."

Emily was taken on a 16ft speedboat by Paul Pritchard, the father of her 15-year-old best friend Holly, who was also on the boat with another friend, when a wave hit the vessel causing it to capsize.

An inquest into her death heard how all four were thrown into the water. One of the straps on her buoyancy aid caught on a cleat and Emily became trapped underneath the boat.

Lifeboat crews freed Emily 25 minutes later, after winching the speedboat up, but she was pronounced dead at hospital.

The code, which was debated in Westminster this week, lists a number of factors that could have prevented Emily's accident and has the backing of the RYA, HM Coastguard, British Water Ski and Wakeboard, and the RNLI.

The Gardner family at the launch on Saturday  - Credit:  Paul Wyeth

It aims to encourage people to get trained, make a plan and know their limits, as well as telling them to use a kill cord and a radio. 

Gloucester MP Richard Graham helped launch the code on the main stage of the dinghy show, saying Emily's parents had been "determined to create something positive" from the tragedy.

He said: "Emily's Code can improve safety awareness and prevent accidents at sea, a vital message. If you're going on a boat at sea this summer please stop and think about Emily's Code first."

RYA director of training and qualifications, Richard Falk, added: "We have been working to spread safety messages for many years, including making sure that you have a radio to call for help, which people can easily forget.

"Emily's story and now her Code will help people to understand that forgetting key safety points can have serious consequences."

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