“Canoes, surfboards and dinghies are to be given the same legal status as cruise liners and oil tankers in a clampdown on reckless behaviour at sea.
Unpowered craft including sailboards and bodyboards are to be reclassified as ships to bring their users within regulations for merchant shipping.
Users face prison and fines of up to £50,000 if they are held liable for any accidents. A family in a dinghy or a beginner oarsman could be prosecuted if they collided with a swimmer. Anyone out on the water would be liable to a random breath test. The change was initially prompted by pressure to reduce accidents involving reckless use of jet skis, which have caused nine deaths in the past ten years. But the Department for Transport has infuriated many of Britain’s four million water sports enthusiasts by proposing to extend the regulations to unpowered craft. All watercraft would be classed as “ships” and thus bound by safety regulations enshrined in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1995. Surfers and canoeists in particular are adamant that they should not be subjected to such legislation.
Mark Wesson, a member of the British Surfing Association’s executive council, said: “We shall certainly be opposing this, and goodness knows what holidaymakers are going to make of this. It may put a lot of people off investing in a surfboard.”
Rob Barber, owner of a bodyboarding school in Newquay, Cornwall, suggested that the plan was too bizarre to enforce. “Common sense says you don’t go out on a surfboard when you are drunk — it’s not something you do,” he said.
Jason Smith, editor of Canoe and Kayak magazine, said: “There is a clear difference between a powered and an unpowered craft and it seems draconian if someone is in the sea in a beginner’s-style kayak after drinking a beer and then they may be prosecuted. I don’t think readers will like it one bit.”
Gus Lewis, legal officer at the Royal Yachting Association, the governing body for dinghies, yachts, rigid inflatable boats and sailboards, said everyone at sea should follow the same safety rules. But he said the association did not support new drink-driving rules for amateur sailors, since it is already an offence to behave in such a way as to endanger a ship or an individual.
Mr Lewis questioned whether the laws should apply to canoes and surfers. “We would include windsurfers, though, for we would say they navigate waters. If you got injured by a windsurfer or a dinghy, you’d be angry if they were somehow above the law.” The proposals, in a consultation paper, are intended to close a legal loophole identified in the Court of Appeal four years ago. Judges overturned the conviction of Mark Goodwin, of Weymouth, Dorset, who nearly killed a man when riding a jet ski. They ruled a jet ski was not a seagoing ship, so not subject to the merchant shipping legislation. The new rules would bring Britain into line with a Convention on International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea.”Read more at:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/more_sport/sailing/article6728335.ece