PLACING inland watercraft under the Merchant Shipping Act should be very welcome with regard to stopping people thinking that narrowboating is a contact sport, writes John Coxon.
It now means that to deliberately either hit, or consciously make no attempt to avoid hitting, another boat or structure including bridges, locks, quays etc is now an offence under the law! It also means that being under the influence of drink or drugs whilst in command of a moving vessel on an inland waterway is also now an offence under the same law.
Have a major effect
This should have a major effect upon those television companies and their so called personalities that seem to try to instil upon the public that smashing into other boats and listed structures is acceptable and normal behaviour and regarded as amusing!
It should also have an effect upon hire companies accepting bookings for so called booze cruises? Will they be liable for deliberately and knowingly allowing an illegal practice, i.e. aiding and abetting, and/or failure to discharge their duty of care?
Activities like smashing through ice covered canals just for the fun of it and damaging other boats, even just scraping off the blacking now becomes a questionable practice? The need for such activity could now need to be proven? Was the reason for the journey unavoidable and not foreseen, 'I need water', 'to empty my Elsan etc?'. Most times this movement can be be avoided by better planning?
What about those boaters who deliberately let their boats enter locks and ram the far gate or cill, sometimes without anyone on board the vessel? Or those who open the bottom gates by ramming them with their boat because they're too idle to do it properly?
The implementation of the legislation does bring to the fore certain questions though, like who is going to police it, who decides what is acceptable behaviour, will the police actually do anything, will CaRT or the EA actually do anything?
Don't hold your breath. I don't think it will be implemented by the authorities as they just do not have any motive to do so nor will it bring in any more revenue for them!
Certainly those who are really at fault will not be touched—the television personalties for instance as their presence on television is worth too much in free advertising for CaRT and the EA etc!
What will constitute proof?
It also throws out questions like, how will any offence be proven? What will constitute proof? Who will investigate any offence? Who will be responsible for initiating a prosecution?
The legislation states that only the CPS can present a prosecution to the courts under these laws. Who can refer an offence to the CPS? Can you really see the police getting involved in a case of a boat hitting a boat any more than they're interested in a minor car on a car shunt?
Can you see them setting up breathalyser check-points on the canals or setting up CCTV cameras all along the waterways to catch offenders as they've done on the roads? Of course not, they'll not be able to recoup enough in fines to make it pay!
The real intention?
All this just highlights what the real intention of the legislation possibly is? Another attempt to justify the existence of a civil servant or government minister perhaps?
It seems as if it's just a very large net that has been thrown over the inland boating community but with holes so large that it will not actually catch anything or anyone?