Watersports operators in the Cayman Islands have come together in unity in the interests of safety.
And now watersports businesses are in the process of formulating new safety recommendations for marine vessels for consideration by government.
Chairman of the Cayman Islands’ Tourism Association’s Watersports Committee, Stephen Broadbelt, Captain Bryan of the Land & Sea Co-op and Ronnie Anglin of Captain Marvin’s Watersports met recently to consider these concerns within the industry, noted a press release.
Some of the areas being supported are licensing of vessels and operators, the number of passengers a vessel may carry, and ensuring veteran boat operators are duly considered in any new regulations and respected for their experience at sea.
‘It was surprisingly easy to agree on all this. We’ve never seen such unanimous support for something,’ Mr. Broadbelt told the Caymanian Compass.
‘Everyone has given their quickest and best response and all their best opinions,’ he said.
What is partly the reason for this, he said, is the fact that the industry has really been self-regulated, and 90 per cent of operators have been following what will be in the recommendations anyway.
The licensing of small commercial and private vessels is strongly supported, as is the licensing for the operators of these vessels.
‘All vessels and craft should be subject to a similar and appropriate licensing, testing and inspections as are all other vehicles used in the public domain within the Cayman Islands,’ says the release.
However, those that have been running boats for many years should be respected in the introduction of new regulations as they have more experience and knowledge than anyone, said Mr. Broadbelt.
‘It is recognised that there are many veteran boat operators within the community without formal documentation of their expertise and a grandfather rights system must be incorporated into any new marine operator licensing regulations,’ said the release.
‘If all vessels are licensed and display registration information and operators are licensed, it will enable much stricter enforcement and accountability of vessel operators and owners.’
Currently small vessels are licensed with the Port Authority, but no inspection is involved. It is more a formality involving the payment of fees.
There is currently no licensing of the operators of small watercraft.
Mr. Broadbelt explained that larger ships have to be registered and inspected by the Shipping Registry in the Cayman Islands, which is very strict.
The Port Authority regulates what safety equipment is required to be carried by a vessel, in addition to general navigation and preventions of collisions at sea code.
‘However, the number of passengers a vessel may carry and who may operate small vessels is virtually unregulated and is considered to be one of the primary areas of concern,’ the release read.
In fact, the Watersports members of the CITA recently approved new guidelines for their members to address this matter. ‘All CITA Watersports member vessels are to display a plaque in a prominent location displaying the maximum number of passengers, divers or snorkellers a vessel is built to carry, as determined by the manufacturer or a licensed marine surveyor,’ says the release.
The recommendations being made are for both private and commercial craft, said Mr. Broadbelt. ‘In the interests of safety you can’t have one without the other,’ he said.
In all, the watersports operators hope that the new regulations can be kept realistic, with consideration that most vessels rarely operate farther than one mile offshore and are within non-tidal and tropical waters.
‘The private sector looks forward to working with Government on putting recommendations into reality for a system that works with the specific needs of the Cayman Islands,’ they said.
The Port Authority of the Cayman Islands is leading a multi agency effort into heightening safety requirements for water-borne vessels.
Now in its initial stages, it is expected to take six months.
Three months back Mr. Broadbelt met with Captain Jack Gallagher, the expert hired to do a risk assessment study as part of the Complaints Commissioner’s investigation into the safety and regulation of small commercial water-borne vessels.
Ironically, they met just a week before the Sun Runner snorkel boat, carrying 54 passengers, tipped over near the Sandbar in the North Sound.
A police investigation into that incident is ongoing.