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Maritime Safety Week: Time to End 20 Years of Delay on Alcohol Limits

As 2023 maritime safety week draws to a close, the British Ports Association (BPA) is renewing it’s call for the UK Government to close the two-decade-long loophole allowing non-professional mariners to navigate vessels under the influence of alcohol. The BPA used the first maritime safety week in 2018 to call for the loophole to be closed.

The Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 received Royal Assent and became law on 10 July 2003. Part 4 of the Act allowed Ministers to place limits on the amount of alcohol that professional and non-professional mariners may have in their system whilst navigating a vessel in UK waters or on UK flagged ships. However section 80, relating to non-professional mariners, was left out of the order bringing these provisions into force in 2004 and has been left that way ever since.

BPA Chief Executive Richard Ballantyne has today written to Maritime Minister Baroness Vere to ask that section 80 of the 2003 Act be brought into force in its entirety. The letter can be found here.

It is 98 years since driving a car on the road whilst drunk was made illegal. It would be a shame if we reached a century without the same provision being rolled out to recreational boating. This change does not require primary legislation. The Secretary of State just needs to make an order to bring existing provisions into force.

We have seen serious and fatal accidents on the water where alcohol has been a factor in recent years. Harbours should not have to wait for an accident to be able to take action against irresponsible users who put themselves and others at risk.

This change would not mean people could not enjoy a drink whilst on the water – although they should be responsible given the dangers – it’s just the person navigating the vessel that would be subject to the law. It is not unreasonable to have a ‘designated driver’ on the water.

Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive at British Ports Association

Driving a car whilst drunk was made illegal in 1925.

The relevant part (section 80) of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 can be found here. Most of Part 4 of the Act – focused on alcohol and drugs in shipping – was brought into force by the The Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2004, but subsections 1-3 of section 80 were left out due to pressure from lobby groups.