A new law cracking down on the dangerous misuse of watercraft such as jet skis will come into force on March 31 when the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is granted more power to prosecute the perpetrators of accidents.

The new Merchant Shipping (Watercraft) Order will apply existing ship operator rules to personal watercraft and will enable watercraft users to be prosecuted for dangerous and negligent use.

The order also means that jet skis will now have to abide by the International Rules for Preventing Collisions at Sea (the COLREGs). They were previously not compelled to abide by the rules, which include maintaining a looking and driving at safe speeds.

The government says the move will help ensure the UK continues to have some of the safest waters in the world. It comes after the pandemic led to a rise of the use in UK waters, as well as increasing numbers of more powerful and larger jet skis becoming more readily available.

Until now, however, maritime safety legislation has not applied to personal watercraft, treating them like a rowing dinghy or paddleboard. Anyone found guilty of handling a watercraft in a dangerous manner could be penalised by an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison, and where accidents result in death, then manslaughter charges can also be brought.

Mel Hide, RYA Director of External Affairs, commented: ‘The RYA welcomes the intent of the new legislation, safe enjoyable boating remains our top priority and the new Merchant Shipping (Watercraft) Order will be an important part of safety on the water. We look forward to working with the Department for Transport and supporting them with the on-going development of legislation to maintain the current high safety standards.’

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