Emily’s Code: From Tragedy to Legacy

When your 14 year old daughter dies in a ghastly boating accident, as Emily Gardner did, what do you do? What way forward can there possibly be?

This is the story of the way the Gardner family has found that honours and remembers Emily, while doing something that will help many – and could save the lives of others.

On the 4th March Clive and Debbie Gardner, their daughter Katie, son Todd and their parents, together with the Royal Yacht Association (RYA), HM Coastguard and I launched Emily’s Code at the huge RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show at Alexandra Palace in London.

On May 2nd 2015 Emily Gardner went out with friends and their family on a speedboat in Brixham Harbour. The boat capsized under a huge wave, and while others swam clear, an investigation later found that the strap of Emily’s over-sized buoyancy aid became snagged on the speedboat’s cleat which trapped her underneath the boat. Despite all efforts to save her, Emily died from drowning.

Other safety issues were also contributing factors, and the Gardners, determined to call for change, focused on better safety on the water.

They started raising funds, helped by Cheryl Brown and many many friends, running a relay from Brixham to Gloucester for Winston’s Wish and the RNLI: organising a giant event and run at Wall’s Club and then Emily’s Diamond Charity Ball in October 2016. They’ve raised an amazing £21,000. But how best to use the money in a lasting way?

I met Clive and Debbie in Gloucester, saw the Chief Executive of HM Coastguard in London, spoke with the Royal Yacht Association, and gradually the idea of Emily’s Code emerged: a sort of Ten Commandments of Boating Safely that would be widely used in RYA and others’ training, and become the standard check list before going on the water.

So this was what we launched with the close partnership of the Royal Yacht Association (RYA) and HM Coastguard, and the support of the RNLI and British Water Ski and Wakeboard.

It’s not rocket science, but it is vital: and in this memorable, human format, Emily’s Code makes us much more risk aware when we, or our children or grandchildren, go out in boats:

This also has the full backing of the government, because on March 1st I explained Emily’s Code in Parliament and Transport Minister John Hayes confirmed the government’s strong enthusiasm and gratitude to the Gardners for their work to make this happen. You can watch the short debate here.

The code ultimately aims to save lives. It shows the determination of the Gardners to do something positive about something tragic, and achieve a legacy in Emily’s name.

It also shows how government agencies, the voluntary sector, a family and their MP can work together to make this – and I’m very grateful to all involved.

The launch is just the beginning. Clive and Debbie have now got experience of dealing with the media, making speeches and addressing large audiences at national shows – all things that will help keep Emily’s Code in the public eye. There’ll be much more in the months and years ahead and they will need all our help in this new world.

Have a look at emilyscode.org and read the Code again: much of it is as relevant on land as it is on sea.

Like the Gazzards, Powells, Evans’s – other families who’ve lost children recently – the Gardners have had to dig very deep. I think Emily’s Code can be a huge success: let me know if you think you can help.