The UK Coastguard’s prosecution of the unfortunate owner of Mandator...

The UK Coastguard?s prosecution of the unfortunate owner of Mandator, the 49ft (15m) Birchwood that had a bruising encounter with Portland breakwater last October, has opened a most unexpected can of worms. By their own admission, the Coastguard brought the prosecution in order to make an example of the case. But even they cannot have foreseen the flap it has caused among boatbuilders, owners and even boating authorities such as the RYA.

The main charge was brought under the Collision Regulations: failing to keep a proper lookout. Fair enough. But there were other charges, which also resulted in a hefty fine, relating to the condition of the boat?s on-board safety equipment, and it is this aspect of the case that has caused the flap, since everyone we talk to (apart from the Coastguard?s enforcement unit, of course) seems to have been unaware that there was any such legislation that applied to boats used purely for pleasure.

Well, there is. The Merchant Shipping Regulations 1999 apply to all ?ships? over 45ft (13.7m) in the UK, whether tugboat or trawler, power or sail, Sunseeker or Sealine ? no ifs or buts.
So ? that nice new ?offshore? pack of flares you treated yourself to at the start of the season: does it contain four parachute rockets? Of course it does ? but you should have six. And your lifebuoys ? are there two of them, one with an automatic light and self-activating smoke signal? Your liferaft is big enough to hold everyone, of course, and it?s stowed where it?s easy to deploy on either side of the boat ? but does it comply with the DoT98UK standard? (Sorry, trick question. The Coastguard believes no one actually manufactures a raft to this standard, because ? wait for it ? there?s no demand.)

It goes on. We try to make sense of all the requirements on p12. And while you?re checking your equipment and appliances, have a look in the bilges for the ?permanent sea connection? for your fire pump. It must be there somewhere.