Guidelines for safe working in estuaries and tidal areas when harvesting produce such as cockles, mussels and shrimps

This publication is also available in Chinese and Polish.


These guidelines were first introduced following the deaths in February 2004 of 21 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay. They were revised during the winter of 2004.

Before you go

Before going out to gather shellfish you must carefully plan and prepare for your intended work. To do this you must have information so that you can assess the risks and make informed decisions and when you go out onto the fishery you must have suitable equipment and sensible transport arrangements.


As a minimum you should have:

  • Local tide tables and an accurate watch. Annual tide table booklets can be bought from most local booksellers and many newsagents, or a 7-day table for Heysham can be found at
  • Knowledge of current and forecast weather conditions, eg fog/flooding.
  • Knowledge of local conditions, eg quicksands, shifting gullies, rivers in flood, the nature and speed of the tide.


You should have with you:

  • A suitable communications device - either a VHF marine band radio or a mobile telephone according to reception. Batteries should be fully charged and the devices should be kept dry.
  • A location device, preferably a Global Positioning Unit (GPS) and/or compass so that you can retrace your way back to land in adverse conditions.
  • High-visibility clothing which is both warm and weatherproof.
  • Emergency equipment - whistles in case of fog/mist, and flares.


When planning your work you must:

  • Recognise that it is vital to leave enough time to get people and vehicles ashore safely. You must allow extra time for possible problems, for example a vehicle breakdown or a vehicle becoming stuck in the sand, when planning the time of your return to the shore.
  • Be able to identify and cope with emergencies such as fog and quicksands.
  • Recognise that working at night creates additional risks and requires appropriate and special precautions.
  • Avoid lone working where possible.
  • Ensure that each group has a recognised and competent leader.
  • Let someone responsible know when you are going out/coming back and where you plan to work. The Coastguard Agency is happy to receive this information on a daily basis. (For the Morecambe Bay area phone the Liverpool Coastguard on 0151 931 3341.) You may also wish to leave a notice in the window of vehicles left on shore listing the person leading the group, a contact number and the names of others working with you.
  • Make sure that the group is not too large. The leader must be able to adequately supervise all members of the group.

Getting to the work area

  • Vehicles used to access the fishery must be suitable for the work area, eg tractors, ATVs or similar.
  • Tractors must be fitted with approved cabs or rollover protection.
  • Where ATVs are used, the drivers should be competent and specifically trained in their use. In some situations it will be necessary to wear safety helmets. Further guidance can be found in the free Agricultural Information Sheet AIS33.
  • All vehicles should be roadworthy and properly maintained and should carry enough fuel for emergencies.
  • Tyres should be inflated to the correct pressure.
  • Old cars and vans are not suitable.

Where trailers pulled by tractors are used to carry passengers, they must be fitted with headboards, tailboards and suitable side protection to prevent passengers falling off. Passengers should not be carried in tractor cabs (unless the manufacturer has provided a second seat), on tractor steps or on the drawbar. Further information can be found in the free Agricultural Information Sheet AIS36.

Normally ATVs should not be used to carry more passengers than specified in the manufacturer's handbook.

Other issues

Other issues you will need to consider include:

  • Manual handling.
  • First aid.

Lifejackets and liferafts

If you follow the precautions in this guidance and plan sensibly you should not need to use lifejackets or liferafts. You may however wish to carry these with you. If you do, lifejackets should, as a minimum, be manufactured to British Standard EN 394:1994 and have buoyancy of not less than 100 Newtons. Lifejackets to this standard can currently be bought for just over £50.00. Liferafts should meet the standard laid down in SOLAS regulation III/4 (see MSN 1734). Contact the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) if you require further information.

Users of lifejackets and liferafts must be properly trained and instructed in their use. They must be able to operate them in an emergency. The devices must also be routinely checked (daily, weekly and monthly) and maintained in accordance with the supplier's instructions.

Remember that these devices are for emergencies only and you should not extend your working time because they are carried. Even allowing for contingencies you should always plan to be safely on shore before there is any possibility of being cut off by the tide when the need for a lifejacket or liferaft for your personal safety might arise.

Don't forget that in an emergency it may take the rescue services 30 minutes or more (longer in winter) to reach you and every emergency also puts the lives of emergency service workers at risk.


Be prepared and equipped for emergencies and build in time so that you can recover the situation and return to shore before being cut off by the tide. The typical dangers are:

  • The onset of adverse weather conditions, including fog.
  • Vehicles or people getting stuck in mud or sand.
  • Getting cut off by the tide because of poor planning.

If in difficulties telephone 999 to contact HM Coastguard or use Marine Band Radio channel 16 – the emergency frequency. Give your position as precisely as you can.

Access to the fishery by boat

Should you use a fishing vessel, boat or inflatable craft to access the fishery, legislation enforced by the MCA will apply and require the specific provision of lifejackets and/or liferafts. Further detailed advice may be obtained by contacting the MCA Advice Line on 0870 6006505 or through their website at

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