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How to Travel Safely on Lakes and Rivers in Uganda: Expert Tips and Precautions

Traveling on lakes and rivers can be an enjoyable experience, but it also comes with its own set of risks, especially during the challenging months between June and August. During this period, major water bodies often experience strong winds and turbulent waves, which can lead to dangerous situations and, in some cases, tragic accidents. Here, we outline essential safety measures for water transport users to ensure safer journeys on lakes and rivers.

Seasonal Challenges and Safety Warnings

The Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) has issued an advisory for water transport users during the June to August period. According to their seasonal rainfall outlook, strong winds and heavy waves are expected. UNMA’s acting executive director, Mr. Bob Alex Ogwang, emphasized the importance of safety precautions in a statement dated May 29.

Key recommendations include:

  • Avoid Overloading Boats: Strong winds increase the risk of capsizing, making it crucial to avoid overloading.
  • Wear Life Jackets: Life jackets can significantly reduce the risk of drowning.
  • Use Sea-Worthy Boats: Ensure the vessel is in good condition and suitable for the journey.

Recent Incidents Highlighting the Risks

Tragic incidents have underscored the need for vigilance. For instance, a passenger boat capsized near Muama Island on Lake Victoria, resulting in the loss of four lives. The boat, carrying 11 passengers and over 500 jerry cans of fuel, was hit by turbulent waves that caused its engine to fail. Fortunately, seven passengers were rescued by nearby fishermen.

Areas Prone to Strong Winds

Kalangala District’s disaster map identifies several sub-counties, including Mazinga, Kyamuswa, Bubeke, and Bufumira, as well as parts of Bujumba Sub-county and Kalangala Town Council, where strong winds are common. Increased water levels at many landing sites further complicate boarding and disembarking.

Precautions for Fishermen and Passengers

Mr. Sirajje Mawanda, spokesperson of the Association of Fishermen and Lake Users (AFALU), advises:

  • Follow Instructions from Boat Skippers: Pay close attention to instructions, especially at landing sites where water levels have risen.
  • Use Sturdy Boats: Boats at least 28 feet long are recommended to prevent overturning.
  • Avoid Night Travel and Cloudy Conditions: These conditions can exacerbate the risks.

Role of Local Leaders and Emergency Response

Mr. David Omongot, Kalangala District’s disaster focal person, stresses the need for effective communication between boat skippers, local leaders, and emergency services. Local leaders are trained to respond promptly to distress calls and monitor weather conditions.

Compliance with Landing Site Rules

Mr. Sudi Kayongo, the chairperson of Kasenyi Landing Site, urges passengers to:

  • Wear Life Jackets: This is a mandatory safety measure.
  • Register Details: Record personal details in registration books at landing sites for accountability.

Government Efforts to Improve Water Safety

The government has initiated several projects to enhance water transport safety, including:

  • Construction of Search and Rescue Centres: Five of nine planned centres are under construction, funded by the African Development Bank.
  • Provision of Life Jackets: Over 23,000 life jackets have been distributed, with more planned for the next financial year.
  • Maritime Training Institute: The institute will offer courses starting next year to train boat skippers and other personnel.

Understanding the Weather Patterns

According to Prof. Wilson Wangi, acting managing director of the Maritime Institute, courses in Maritime Engineering and Nautical Science will be offered to improve knowledge and skills in water transport.

Historical Data and Incident Reports

Reports from the Lake Victoria Environment Management Programme (LVEMP) highlight the dangers posed by converging winds and unstable waves. Past incidents, such as the March 12, 2024, capsizing near Bussi Island, underline the importance of wearing life jackets and being prepared for emergencies.

Conclusion

Traveling on lakes and rivers requires careful planning and adherence to safety protocols. By following expert advice and government guidelines, passengers and boat operators can significantly reduce the risk of accidents. Stay informed about weather conditions, ensure your vessel is in good condition, and always prioritize safety over convenience.

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