Time running out for vessel inspections

Owners of commercial and fishing
vessels in Cayman have only a few days left to ensure their boats comply with
the Port Authority Law & Regulations. The annual Vessel Safety Equipment
Inspections are ongoing in order to make sure engines and safety equipment is
in order. After the end of July the owner of any vessel found to be short of
the safety requirements faces prosecution and a fine of $1,000 and/or a year in

The requirements for on-board
safety, rescue and navigational equipment increase by boat size under the
categories of 8 to 20ft, 20 to 40ft and 40ft or more. These include bilge
pumps, anchors with various lengths of rope, various kinds of signalling apparatus,
navigation equipment and first aid kits.

“When you’re catering to tourists,
say on a Stingray City trip, some of those boats can carry over a hundred
people and there’s supposed to be a life vest on board for everybody, including
crew,” explained Harbour Patrol officer Duane Panton, who along with colleague
Clinton ‘CJ’ Jackson is responsible for the inspections.

“We go down the checklist and make
sure that everything is working and has not expired. We also do the commercial
fishing boats; if they’re not up to par and don’t have the certificate customs
will not clear them to leave,” he added.

Additional requirements for fishing
vessels include rescue boats and long-range radio, which can operate 200-300
miles from Cayman.

Common sense

Mr. Jackson likened the inspections
to the inspection process for cars.

“It’s a common-sense methodology.
We do all the safety checks but we also check the engine room to check that it
is operational and not pumping out oil. It’s all in the aspect of safety.

“We go by the law. We’ve run into a
few people who have [invoked] what they call a ‘grandfather clause’. They say,
‘all the years I have been doing this I’ve never needed [the certificate].’ We
ran into a guy who asked why he needed navigational lights because he operated
during the day. But what happens when you break down in the day and are stuck
in the night? And if it’s pouring down with rain, you’d better turn them on [to
be able to see]. But 99 per cent of the people we speak to welcome it with open
arms,” said the officer.

People in possession of a valid
certificate are advised to keep a laminated copy on board.

Monitoring activities

Harbour Patrol’s duties also
include monitoring the water activities of visitors who are occasionally prone
to getting carried away with the experience.

“Not only are we in the harbour,
but we’ve also got some of the greatest snorkelling and diving on either side
of it. People are out there and before you know it they are literally under a
cruise ship which can be very dangerous with belt thrusters and stuff. We keep
an eye out for jet skis speeding, escort visiting vessels in, maintain the
moorings and the channel markers so we have a pretty full plate as well as the
inspections,” added Mr. Panton.

The inspections are part of a wider
intent to introduce a boating safety course, said Mr. Jackson. He said that
people might be surprised to find out that there is no equivalent of a driving
test for people to prove their fitness to pilot a vessel.

“We’re trying to get it off the
ground where we require everyone across the board to take a basic boat safety
course which includes all of the marine laws, marine conservation laws, all the
laws of the port – everything. We are working on putting that together at
present and we’re trying to work on Red Cross on first aid.

“It doesn’t make sense that if I’m
the captain on the boat and something happens to me but my partner is in la-la
land and doesn’t know how to move the boat, turn, do nothing. You and your crew
have to have a basic knowledge of operating a vessel,” said the officer.

Ticketing system

Mr. Jackson noted that the Harbour
Patrol team would like to be able to implement certain systems that would
enhance their ability to operate effectively.

“I’ve been working for the last
fifteen years on a ticketing system to make things simple. I joined here in
2005 and within a year I got a draft copy which was the furthest I got in ten
years but haven’t got any further.

“It’s very simple; it’s all been
put together, all done. … Five years ago they came up with this great idea
that everybody had to wear seat belts and within a week it was the law. – What
is so hard? This is a problem,” he added.

The Harbour Patrol officer noted
that there is not such an offence as boating under the influence at present in
the Cayman Islands.

“The only thing that police can
charge you with is reckless and negligent acts under the port authority law.
We’re trying to put some more teeth in the thing. We’ve had boating accidents
and a lot are just reckless. I can guarantee you that most involve alcohol.

“Take the classic one: on a Sunday
go to Rum Point and count how many boats are there. I guarantee you that 90 per
cent of the people are drinking,” he said.