Boating officially open says DEFRA

Boating officially open says DEFRA
Mercury Yacht Harbour

DEFRA has finally clarified some of the concerns about whether recreational boating was classed as permissible in England.

In an update to its website this morning, the Government department says:

“All forms of water sports practiced on open waterways, including sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, rowing, kayaking, surfing, paddle-boarding and the use of privately-owned motorised craft (in line with the guidance issued by the relevant navigation authority) are allowed.”

The RYA is leading the charge in getting boaters back onto the water, also pushing for sailing clubs to reopen, citing Sports England‘s website’s statement that “Any facilities associated with outdoor sports and physical activities are permitted to reopen, including basketball and tennis courts, playing spaces like golf courses (public and private) and playing fields and water sports.”

Sarah Treseder, RYA Chief Executive, says: “We welcome the Government’s guidance that general day trip leisure activities are being encouraged and we will continue to work with the RNLI to ensure this is done safely.

“We know that many people will choose to participate in water-based activities such as sailing, motor boating, kayaking and angling from now onwards – especially given the longevity of the lockdown restrictions to date and the favourable weather conditions we’ve been enjoying. In line with Government guidelines for public spaces, the boating community may now drive to their destination so long as they observe social distancing.”

However, Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive of British Ports Association, is advising caution.

“We’re all keen and excited to get into the leisure season,” he says. “But we have to urge caution and temper expectations. There is still a question about landside interfaces – like slipways and marinas. These have been closed by various bodies and we’re waiting clarification which should come under policy set by the Departure for Culture, Media and Sport. What we really need is a bit of clarity today.

“There’s been lots of workplace guidance which covers warehousing and shops, but there isn’t any specific mention of marine facilities in there.

“Even if we had everything through this morning, some of the ports would potentially need some time to carry out risk assessments and analyse and modify facilities. And although ports have been looking at this since Monday, that may be too short a time to get ready. A lot of smaller ports have furloughed staff and they’ll need time to get them back. They may need training on new ways of working.”

Cowes Harbour Commission (CHC) issued a statement pointing out that the Government has not yet issued any specific guidance on leisure marine activities and a number of important issues surrounding the potential reopening of marinas, slipways, pontoons, etc., and access to leisure vessels still requires urgent clarification.

“Although it is expected that specific Government advice will confirm that certain sailing activities and water sports will be able to start shortly,” the statement reads [this has now been confirmed], “marine leisure facilities around the country will need to be assessed and prepared to accommodate social distancing and hygiene measures.”

The British Ports Association (BPA) and UK Harbour Master’s Association (UKHMA) have been in daily contact with relevant Government departments and are assured that further guidance is expected to be released shortly. The more general Transport Sector guidance released yesterday makes it clear that organisations are expected to consider it in full and translate its principles and examples into specific actions. To comply with their legal Health and Safety obligations, organisations also need to ensure that risk assessments (which take account of relevant guidance) have been carried out and suitable policies and procedures put in place. To do this properly and safely takes time, to ensure safety for users, staff and also the public. This also means that there are likely to be certain measures that need to be followed that could alter what leisure users can do.

“The BPA and UKHMA have therefore suggested that Cowes Harbour Commission considers waiting for the more specific guidance to be issued before easing current restrictions,” the CHC statement says. “The intervening period can be used to consider the newly released Transport Sector guidance and to prepare the relevant policies and procedures. These can then be adapted following the release of the more specific guidance.

“For the safety of everyone, recreational marine leisure users are asked to remain patient and understanding as the BPA and UKHMA continue to cooperate and work closely with Government.”

Martin Willis, Executive Officer of UKHMA, says: “The Government’s maritime focus rightly has up to now been on the ferries, cargo, shipping and passenger sectors. We knew that the leisure and recreational sector would be challenging as lockdown restrictions begin to be lifted – events on the ground are currently outstripping official communication and planning.

“There seems to be a real mixture of response from ports, harbours and marinas around the UK following the Prime Minister’s statement at the weekend,” he says. “It’s really up to the individual harbour authority or marina facility to do what’s best to manage the risk level regarding  their operations, their stakeholders and the public based on the latest Government guidance regarding social distancing and safe operating measures.

“There will be a mixture of very proactive ports who are ready, and some who are a bit slower due to individual operational circumstances. It feels like there is lots of pressure to open up around the Solent, less possibly elsewhere in areas of the UK.

“People do need to take the time to get back to their vessels to check on the safe condition of the craft and their equipment, making sure all their equipment is in date and ready to use as necessary, to avoid placing undue burden on the RNLI and other rescue services.”

In Portsmouth, the Queen’s Harbour Master had this to say:

“Following the Government’s revised social distancing measures aimed at reducing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, we are continuing to review our advice to recreational boaters in concert with industry bodies and the regional ports and harbours. Further clarity is currently being sought from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport who are setting details of how facility operators and water users will be required to comply, and our advice will be updated in line with this guidance.

“In the meantime, QHM Portsmouth continues to operate an open port policy, the primary purpose of which is to protect defence output and commercial activity including vital transport, trade routes, and industry.

“Some leisure facility providers within the Dockyard Port are considering the feasibility of re-opening while addressing how to manage constraints which may be imposed to meet the Government’s requirements.

“Individuals whose circumstances permit them access to the water are encouraged to consider the following:

  • Whether your activity is being carried out in conformance with Government regulations for social distancing and exercise, including on the shore when accessing the water
  • Whether sufficient maintenance has been conducted on your vessel to ensure it remains serviceable and seaworthy, reducing the risk of needing external assistance
  • Any other aspects which increase the risk of depending on emergency responders including experience levels and prevailing conditions.

“The fact that at present there are no RNLI lifeguards on beaches, no Volunteer Harbour Patrol in Portsmouth Harbour, and although volunteer lifeboat crews are fully operational should they be needed, it is important that anyone visiting the coast understands the risk and takes the necessary steps to keep themselves safe.”

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