EDITORIAL – Insuring the future of our water sports

Dive operators on Grand Cayman are raising concern about jet skiers who are ignoring dive flags and putting other water users in danger.

In 2006, a young Cabinet Minister by the name of Alden McLaughlin tabled in the Legislative Assembly a report titled “Safety of Small Commercial Waterborne Vessels.” The report, prepared by the Office of the Complaints Commissioner, noted some “exemplary operators” but concluded that in the absence of sufficient regulation, others fell far short of “acceptable standards” for equipment, operations and crew training, certification and knowledge.

The report recommended passing a law to regulate the industry – a law which, as Department of Environment’s Scott Slaybaugh told attendees last week at a water sports forum held by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, was drafted in the same year.

The law, to use the parlance of the aquatic industry, was “deep-sixed,” and a dozen years later, we now learn there is no legislation or regulation that requires water sports operators to carry liability insurance – or meet a number of (or any) other requirements that one would consider minimal (such as training and rigorous testing) to operate a business on the high seas that involves the safety of tourists and other passengers.

Clinton Jackson of the Port Authority told the group he had been pushing for suitable regulations for some time. That raises the obvious question:

Who is pushing back?

To their credit, many responsible water sports operators at the gathering appeared both surprised and disturbed.

Rod McDowall, who runs Red Sail Sports and also serves as CITA’s water sports director said this: “Someone is going to have to stand up and have the courage regarding the registration of boats, boat operating licenses and insurance. Set them in stone and say these are the minimum requirements, no ifs or buts.”

Police Commissioner Derek Byrne got right to the point: “It seems to me it would be a very small piece of work to identify the current position, the desired state, identify the gap and close the gap.”

Claudia Brady, who heads up compliance and enforcement at the Department of Commerce and Investment, asserted that her ministry seeks to lower the bar to entry for entrepreneurs and small business operators. That is a theme that we support, and have supported, for years on this editorial page. Government needs to get out of the way of “lemonade stand” businesses, not strangle them with red tape before they are able to take their first breath or barely able to take their first step.

But the no-insurance exemption for water sports operators is a step far too far. It puts at risk not just the passengers aboard these vessels but the reputation of the entire water sports industry in the Cayman Islands – in other words, a huge risk. We wonder whether the cruise ship lines are even aware that many of their passengers may inadvertently be exposing themselves to uninsured vendors.

We confess that we are anything but experts when it comes to the intricacies of insurance. We assume, but do not know, that most of the uninsured operators are small businessmen, rather than their larger competitors. They, as a group, should do what we do when we have insurance decisions to make: We call Aon Insurance Managers ((345) 945-1266), headquartered in Camana Bay. Aon is one of the top firms in the world (50,000 employees in 120 countries) and provides advice on virtually every conceivable insurance issue. They (or similar service providers in Cayman), will tell the water sports operators exactly what they need to do.

We ourselves know, without making any telephone calls, exactly what the government must do. It must convene and put into place immediately the legislation and regulations to ensure that every single water sports operator in the Cayman Islands is adequately trained – and fully insured.

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  1. If Claudia Brady as Head of Compliance and Enforcement thinks that local watersports operators, even if they are start ups can be equated to someone selling lemonade at a street stand, she needs to be replaced without delay.There is a significant risk in many water sports and adequate safeguards including insurance should be in place at all times.