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Concerning new Department for Transport proposals at risk of capturing coastal paddlers

The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a public consultation on the use and classification of recreational and personal watercraft (PWC). The Government has said that the purpose of the consultation is to ‘modernise laws and clamp down on dangerous driving of jet skis to protect the public and coastal areas’. British Canoeing and the National Associations are concerned that the paddling community would unintentionally be caught by the new legislation. The proposed definition of ‘watercraft’ currently would include all types of paddle craft, adversely affecting thousands of coastal paddlers.

The consultation, ‘Strengthening enforcement of the dangerous use of recreational and personal watercraft’ opened on 06 September and will close at 11:45pm on 01 November 2021. 

The proposals from DfT would re-classify the use of recreational and personal watercraft (‘PWC’s’), such as Jetski’s and speedboats, making the users subject to the same laws and safety obligations as those who operate ships. This would mean tougher sentences for those caught driving recklessly.

Worryingly, the definition proposed by the DfT consultation would include all unpowered craft that are over 2.5m in length. This would mean unpowered craft, such as Sea Kayaks, Canoes and Stand up PaddleBoards would be subject to the new rules. British Canoeing therefore will be proposing the definition of ‘Watercraft’ contained within the draft order is too wide and should specifically exclude unpowered craft.

The consultation is part of the Government’s commitment to personal and recreational watercraft safety outlined in the Maritime Safety Action Plan launched by ministers during Maritime Safety Week 2019. Clearly, British Canoeing supports all efforts to improve safety, however the figures quoted within the consultation do not accurately reflect the reality with regards to incidents involving unpowered craft.

British Canoeing operates a UK wide incident reporting system and also analyses incident data supplied by the RNLI and WAID (Water Incident Database compiled by RoSPA). In analysing data over the past 5 years there are no incidents involving paddle craft that have could or has caused any harm as defined in the consultation. It is therefore difficult to see what purpose would be served by including paddle craft in the legislation.

The new legislation could mean that unpowered craft over 2.5m in length would be subject to greater regulation, registration and enforcement by maritime authorities. Clearly the new legislation is not aimed at paddlers, however a loosely worded definition within the draft order could be very detrimental in future if it is not changed. Challenging the proposed legislation at this stage is therefore important. 

British Canoeing and the National Associations will be responding to the consultation on behalf of its members, to ensure that the proposals do not unintentionally capture the tens of thousands of paddlers who enjoy using our coast.

We would encourage any organisations or paddlers who may be affected by these proposals to have their say before the consultation deadline. 

To have your say on the DfT’s proposals, please visit the GOV.UK website. You will find guidance for responding in the document section below. 

The consultation closes at 11:45pm on 01 November 2021.