Coast Guard head expects boating laws soon

The newly formed Coast Guard will ultimately take over the responsibilities of the Joint Marine Unit.

Cayman’s largely unregulated boating community may be getting some new rules.

Robert Scotland, commandant of the Cayman Islands Coast Guard, said work is under way to draft new laws that would apply to commercial operators on the islands. He said he expects regulations for private boaters will follow.

In an email, Scotland said a working group was formed in May “as part of an initiative to achieve compliance with the International Maritime Organisation’s III Code … The working group is in the process of finalising proposed amendments to the Merchant Shipping Law, which will be presented in a final report in the coming weeks.”

He said a Coast Guard Law is also being drafted. He expects the resulting legislation “will address maritime safety standards relative to the use and operations of private vessels”.

Commercial boat operators in Cayman say it would be a good thing to have more regulation of boats and boating traffic. Such changes, they say, might help prevent accidents such as the recent two-vessel collision in North Sound that killed two men and badly injured a woman.

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Ronnie Anglin, director and president of Captain Marvin’s, a tour and charter company, said greater regulation should have been implemented long ago.

“It’s been talked about for some time,” Anglin said, “and it’s overdue. If we don’t do something soon, we’re going to regret it.”

What he and many other professional operations would like to see are laws requiring the registration of boats and licensing for those who operate them. Some also said rules relating to drunk driving need to be imposed. Currently, there are no laws regarding these issues.

Scotland said the law being written will “most certainly” deal with driving boats while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He said some of the proposed regulations will deal with:

Use/operation of a vessel while under the influence of alcohol, narcotic or other sensory impeding substance;

Use/operation of a vessel over a certain speed within certain zones;

Use/operation of a vessel which is involved in a collision causing damage or injury to another vessel/structure/person while under the influence.

Anglin said boating in Cayman has become more dangerous in the past decade as more and more boats are plying its waters.

“Every week you turn around, there’s another boat on North Sound,” he said. “There’s not an infinite amount of space. The population has gotten to the point where something has to be done.

“The will hasn’t been there,” he added, “but I think it might be now.”

There is a long list of maritime boating regulations already on the books. Those regulations, which can be found on the Port Authority’s website, deal with such safety issues as life vest requirements and right-of-way issues when it comes to other boats, divers and swimmers.

Deputy Director of Operations Will Jacobs said the boating community operates largely on its honour. Apart from annual inspections of tour boats, he said, the Port Authority has no enforcement capabilities.

“I’m not sure who would enforce it,” Jacobs said of the regulations. “I would see this [falling] more under the Coast Guard. In the US, it’s the Coast Guard that enforces [marine laws].”

At Harbour House Marina, near the site of the recent double-fatal accident, general manager Jonathan Cuff said additional regulations “would be a good thing for Cayman”.

At the same time, he said, he does not think such regulations would make a significant difference for the majority of those out on the water. He thinks people want to be safe when sailing or driving a boat. In fact, he’s seen greater concern in recent years.

“We have seen an improvement in the attitudes of boaters over the last few years,” Cuff said. “I have noticed, particularly since the boat was lost on the west side of the island and that family was lost, [referring to an incident in 2016 when a fishing boat carrying three men and two boys capsized and the bodies were never found], most boaters are taking safety more seriously.

“Most boaters are conscientious,” he added. “What the government would have to decide is how to enable the police to deal with people who [are not].”

new laws would have to go through the Legislative Assembly for approval.

Last week, Legislative Assembly Member Ezzard Miller called for legislators to revisit the issue.

Premier Alden McLaughlin did not respond to requests for comment.

Mark Button ran Moby-Dick Tours until recently. He said the lack of boating regulations is a glaring hole that needs to be filled.

“It’s like you leave your common sense at the airport,” he said. “It’s amazing that anyone can grab a powerful speedboat and just take off. It’s just waiting for the next disaster to happen.”

At Red Sail Sports, Operations Manager Rod McDowall said common sense laws would help. He’d like to see boat operators have something similar to a driver’s licence.

“I don’t think it needs to be very stringent,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a whole lot different than motor vehicle [laws].”

He hopes such regulations would encourage a certain element of boaters to clean up their acts.

“The thing most people are concerned about is there’s a small minority of people who are a little bit reckless,” he said. “You’ve got the idiot element that ruins it for everyone.”

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  1. Perhaps they can start by prosecuting the mostly commercial boat and jet ski operators who regularly greatly exceed the 5 mph speed limits on canals leading to the North Sound. These are posted No Wake zones yet the wake created is almost constant. Especially on busy cruise ship days. Some jet skis tear past our house at 30 mph.

    Not only does this erode home owners sea walls and bounce their docked boats around it also is dangerous to snorkelers and kayakers.