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Jet skis – tougher legislation proposed. Photo by Joe Cox on Unsplash

Consultation begins on tougher penalties for dangerous jet ski users

Tougher penalties for dangerous jet ski use could come in to force if plans contained in a government consultation document are made law.

The Department of Transport has opened a consultation which could result in new laws to deal with dangerous jet ski users, including the seizure of unsafe craft,  unlimited fines and up to two years imprisonment for serious offences.

This summer has seen an increase in reports of speeding and anti-social behaviour in the waters off Brightlingsea, forcing the harbour authorities to increase patrols and, on Point Clear, install cameras to record number plates so that offenders can be more easily identified and hire security guards to prevent launching. Brightlingsea Town Council has also installed more buoys to mark safe swimming areas along the Promenade.

The DoT says that its favoured option is to extend the provisions of the Railways and Transport Safety Act, rather than bring in new primary legislation. However, this could see jet skis and other "recreational watercraft" – basically any power or sailboat over 2.4m and under 24m long that isn't a merchant or fishing boat – being brought within the scope of the Merchant Shipping Act and the Harbours Act.

"The Department believes that this definition will capture all relevant PWCs, recreational and other watercraft such as speedboats as well as larger unpowered craft," says the consultation document.  "Should any owner or user of a watercraft within this definition fail to comply with relevant safety requirements then they will, in future, be open to prosecution by the relevant enforcement authority."

Under the current system, local authorities have the power to regulate speed and nuisance driving through byelaws, with the power to fine those breaching the rules up to £1,000. According to the DoT, although many authorities have introduced speed limits, signage and ID tags to prevent accidents, there remains a number of unmanaged waters around the UK and, since the beginning of 2020, there have been four fatalities related to dangerous driving on jet skis.

The maritime minister, Robert Courts, said: "The vast majority of jet-skis users, and those operating personal and recreational watercraft, do so safely and responsibly. However, there are those who unfortunately put others in danger. Introducing these laws will help prevent accidents from happening, allowing everyone to enjoy our waterways, beaches and coastlines safely and with peace of mind."

The consultation closes on on November 1 and the consultation documents can be seen here.

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