A POTENTIALLY deadly craze has seen children playing “chicken” with boats by jumping off walls at a Lothian harbour in front of the vessels.
Gangs of children have been gathering at North Berwick Harbour in East Lothian for “tombstoning”, where they leap into the sea from its walls.
Now harbour officials say the youngsters have been daring each other to take part in increasingly dangerous behaviour.
As well as performing backflips and somersaults into the water, children have begun leaping in front of boats at the last minute, forcing them to take evasive action.
Police have issued a warning to youngsters that they could be paralysed or killed by indulging in the stunts.
Jackie Tagg, a member of the North Berwick Harbour Trust, watched children dive in front of her own boat, and said their behaviour was an “accident waiting to happen”.
She said: “No matter how much parents, teenagers and children think they know about the depth, tides, currents and rocks, there will always be safety issues, particularly with jumping off the old pier.
“They could be swept into the old pier where there are metal steps and concrete, and there are also boats around. If they run and jump, and lose their footing, they could go head-first into rocks.”
Groups of as many as 20 youngsters have been congregating to take part in tombstoning – jumping into the sea from a high point so the jumper enters the water vertically straight, like a tombstone.
In another incident, a boy was encouraged to jump but did not leap far enough and injured his back after landing in the water.
Ms Tagg said tombstoning also interfered with vessels using the harbour, including those taking visitor trips to the Firth of Forth islands.
She said that parents had to shout a warning to the skipper of one vessel as two children were in the water at the mouth of the harbour.
Ms Tagg added: “People just see the fun and parents often encourage it, and take photos. But there are risks and it is an inconvenience to operators.
“People have been killed in other areas and people have been paralysed.”
Harbour master Ross Harbison is working with police to try to highlight the issue in local schools. But warning signs put up in the harbour have been ripped off or defaced.
Derek Braid, assistant treasurer of the East Lothian Yacht Club, said: “There will always be temptation to tombstone whenever there is water, even if it is too shallow. The other risk is the many boats that use the narrow harbour entrance.”
A police spokesman said: “We would remind people that tombstoning is very dangerous. People jump into water with no knowledge of the depth of the water, currents, or any underwater obstructions and this can cause serious injuries, and in some cases death.”