The Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s Watersports Committee would like to see a regulation changed that currently requires a look-out on board boats when divers are in the water.
A regulation under the Port Authority Law states: ‘At least one person shall remain on board and act as lookout on any dive-boat or other vessel whilst divers therefrom are down.’
CITA Watersports Chairman Stephen Broadbelt said in an emailed statement to the Caymanian Compass: ‘This regulation had remained dormant for decades and for good reason.’
However, now that enforcement on this regulation has come about recently, Mr. Broadbelt said the CITA watersports committee believes the policy could do more harm than good for a number of reasons. One is because the expense of hiring an extra staff member as ‘look-out’ could put some operators out of business. And he believes that those that don’t hire extra staff will sacrifice in-water supervision, especially on wall dives, in order to have a look-out.
‘We believe that requiring a look-out on board without overhauling the existing regulations, will, in fact, decrease safety for visiting scuba divers,’ said Mr. Broadbelt.
He feels this would be especially true on a deep dive, when dive instructors accompany divers over the wall and a dive that more inexperienced divers are more likely to have problems with.
‘If enforced, dive operators will have little choice but to send their customers out on to the drop-off unsupervised, as the staff member is required to stay on board. With the family and baby-boomer market as our core customers, in-water supervision is what our customers expect and need. If they don’t get it here- they will go elsewhere.’
Inspector Brad Ebanks of the RCIPS and Customs Marine Unit said the solution is to simply hire another person to be on the boat as a look-out.
But Mr. Broadbelt says this is not a reasonable option. ‘The Port regulations demand another staff member to sit on the boat for a period of approximately 30 minutes. It is unreasonable and inflexible to expect dive operators to hire one full-time staff person per boat for such a short period of time during the day.’
Mr. Broadbelt said that authorities have argued that it is purely a financial issue and the matter is simply solved by hiring more staff. ‘Naturally, all operating costs are factors in running a business and it is most likely that enforcement of the regulation as written will result in some good operators going out of business.
‘But those that are able to overcome this additional burden will need to cut corners by hiring less qualified or experienced staff, sacrifice in-water supervision and reduce the overall customer experience and safety.’
Inspector Ebanks said the look-out regulation is something they have started concentrating on enforcing recently because of various incidents that have occurred.
He spoke about an instance in which a dive boat broke from its mooring and drifted into the reef, causing damage. There had been no look-out on board to bring it back, he said.
He also said that when a diver comes to the surface with problems there needs to be a look-out on board to help, as in some instances a diver surfaces and there is no dive buddy with them.
Manager Cruise Operations and Security with the Port Authority Joseph Woods also said it is a mater of safety, that if a diver gets in trouble and the person leading the dive brings them back to the surface, if no one is on the boat to help they wouldn’t be able to get the person onto the boat. ‘Then it is often necessary for one person to do first aid and CPR while the other has to go back and alert the other divers to resurface.’
Mr. Woods added, ‘It’s something they [the watersports operators] have canvassed to us before and we’ve not supported changing it in the past and at this moment our position has not changed on it.’
Insp. Ebanks said this is something that is being enforced and needs to be enforced in the reasons of safety. ‘We want to keep this as a safe diving destination. That’s the reason it [the regulation] is there,’ he said.
But Mr. Broadbelt asserts that another problem with the regulation is that it does not state what sort of individual the ‘look-out’ has to be – whether they need to even be able to swim and rescue someone or operate a marine VHF radio.
Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford said the watersports sector was given an opportunity to make a recommendation to the Office of the Complaints Commissioner, Port Authority and the RCIPS regarding why having a look-out was not necessary. ‘However, the recommendation by the OCC, Port and RCIPS was that such a measure was needed to ensure safety,’ he said.
He noted that the Ministry is providing another opportunity for watersports operators to submit a formal case as to why the look-out policy is not needed and how they can guarantee safety without it. ‘After the formal case is submitted we hope to schedule a meeting with all stakeholders in hope of coming to a resolve on this issue.
‘However, if the watersports industry cannot convince the enforcement and regulating bodies that abandoning this regulation is the right way to go, as a Ministry we will not go against a recommendation from enforcement and regulators of the industry.’
While the Minister said that up to now the industry has self governed itself, Government is developing a regulatory regime for the operation of commercial vessels.
Although the Minister has said he will meet with them on this issue, Mr. Broadbelt said it will be a challenge for the small businesses to operate in the meantime under it. He also believes there are many aspects of the issue that need to be addressed, such as vessel size and the type of activity taking place and the ratios of staff to passengers.
He said the Cayman Islands dive industry always was and still is the leader for diver safety in the region, with strict safety guidelines for vessels, conservative supervision ratios and highly trained staff.
‘The industry has remained self regulated by our association or indirectly regulated by insurance requirements or by the hotels or cruise ships whom the operators contract with. Some in the industry feel that it should remain that way and government involvement is not necessary.’
All of the dive operators have visitor and staff safety at heart and CITA hopes the authorities and operators can work together to find a solution that will maintain Cayman’s reputation as a leader in diver safety, Mr. Broadbelt said.
‘We believe that requiring a look-out on board without overhauling the existing regulations, will, in fact, decrease safety for visiting scuba divers.’
– CITA Watersports Chairman Stephen Broadbelt