Dinghies, surfers and pedaloes caught in admin dragnet

The Department for Transport is proposing to reclassify small craft, like surfboards, dinghies and pedaloes, as ships so that their users are subject to the same regulations as tankers, cargo ships and cruise liners. This opens the way for random breath testing at sea.

A report in The Times today says the move is intended to tackle reckless behaviour, notably that of jet skis, by closing a legal loophole that has allowed irresponsible users to escape justice. The loophole was identified in 2005 when Mark Goodwin of Weymouth escaped conviction after nearly killing a man while jet ski-ing. His defence claimed that the jet ski was not a seagoing ship and therefore not subject to merchant shipping regulation, including COLREGs. Accidents involving jet skis resulted in 300 injuries last year and have caused nine fatalities in the last 10 years.

By reclassifying small vessels as ships, the Government makes not only jet skiers, but also surfers, canoeists, dinghy sailors, pedalo users and anyone on the water, subject to COLREGs. If the legislation goes through, those found guilty of transgressing the regulations of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 will be liable to fines of up to £50,000 and two years in jail.

Gus Lewis, legal expert at the RYA, supports the move, saying ‘If you got injured by a dinghy or a windsurfer, you’d be angry if they were somehow above the law.’ He reiterated, though, that drink-driving legislation is not necessary as it is already an offence to act in a way that endangers vessels or individuals.