By Dan Walsh
Senator Malcolm Byrne has welcomed moves by Government that will require the mandatory registration of jet skis by their owners and that the move will assist where jet skis breach local bye-laws designed to protect swimmers and other sea users.
Speaking in Seanad Éireann, Senator Byrne said; “We are coming into the summer season. Many more people are availing of our beaches and swimming is becoming more popular year-round. However, the problem continues to arise around jet skis and small motorised vehicles. I am aware that legislation is in place that will allow local authorities to put by-laws in place. Those by-laws are supposed to be enforced, but one of the difficulties is around the question of enforcement. At the moment, even though there are by-laws regulating where jet skis can go – and they should not be going into bathing areas – there is no requirement on the owner of a jet ski to register that ownership.
“There are now jet skis that can travel at up to 100 km/h in some cases and have 1,000 cc engines. Anybody can go and buy them. There are no requirements in terms of training, insurance or registration. Think about a vehicle that powerful in comparison with, say, a motor vehicle. What happens if there is an accident? What happens if one of those jet skis collides with a swimmer? This is a fear in many of our coastal communities. What are the insurance implications? Who is responsible?
“The Minister of State will be aware that there was a joint appeal last year by a number of bodies, including Waterways Ireland, the Coast Guard and Water Safety Ireland, around the responsible use of jet skis. However, we as a country are an outlier in terms of registration of these small motor vehicles. We need to look at treating jet skis essentially in the same way as we treat cars, with the same registration requirements. That way, if an incident occurs, somebody can be held to account.
“We do not want to stop people from using jet skis. Encouraging water sports is important, but people should do them responsibly. It may be that at some stage in the future we need to consider the idea of water police for some of our busiest beaches, who could be shared around the country, to be able to monitor situations where jet skiers and swimmers are close to each other.
Minister of State Mary Butler TD replied; “I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Naughton, who is currently attending Cabinet. I recognise many of the significant points made by the Senator. He attended in Waterford last Friday afternoon, when we celebrated 20 years of the search and rescue service in the southeast located at Waterford regional airport. We must achieve the right balance. We have seen the amount of search and rescue requests at sea and inland, and these are coupled with the supports provided by the Garda and other bodies that help people who may get lost on mountains or whatever. There is a huge range of supports in place and we must be very conscious of that.
“The Minister of State informs me a range of control mechanisms relating to the regulation of jet skis exist under the Maritime Safety Act 2005. The Act strengthened the law against improper use of certain personal watercraft and recreational craft and promotes good practice in the operation of vessels generally. Section 6 in Part 2 of the Maritime Safety Act 2005 allows local authorities, harbour authorities and Waterways Ireland to make by-laws to regulate or control the operation of craft or specified classes of craft, including jet skis, in waters under their control or management or in their functional areas.
“The prohibition or restriction of jet skis may be general or in specified places and in the interests of the safety of persons using waters at certain times, or for the prevention of nuisance or injury to persons or damage to watercraft or other property on the waters. It may also be for the protection of a natural heritage area or protected monument. The by-laws may also address matters relating to launching, mooring or berthing craft, the conditions to be observed by operators of craft or maximum speed limits at which craft may be operated.
“Section 6 of the Act also includes an offence and penalty regime for persons who operate a craft in contravention of a by-law made under the section. The Act recognises that the conditions and issues can vary in different parts of the country. Therefore, it is a matter for the individual by-law making authorities to assess the particular circumstances in their area and decide on the appropriate response. There are general enforcement provisions contained in the 2005 Act that allow An Garda Síochána or authorised persons to act in particular circumstances. These include requiring the ceasing of the operation of craft, the seizure of craft in the interests of safety and other enforcement actions.
“I accept that the only reason the Senator is raising this matter is from a health and safety perspective and he is not trying to stop anyone enjoying the water or the beautiful beaches we have. We are very lucky to live on an island with fabulous and spectacular beaches.
The Senator indicates there is no provision under the Merchant Shipping Act for the licensing of jet skis. The provision of the Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Act 2014, when fully commenced, will assist in the identification of owners of jet skis for enforcement purposes. An extension of mandatory registration to additional ship categories, including personal watercraft such as jet skis, is proposed for the future when the new ship registration regime is rolled out. However, this will take some time as the full commencement of the Act requires the establishment of a new electronic ship register and registration regime, which will be progressed under a separate information technology project. There will be new ship registration regulations to complement and align with the registration information technology project. It is one of the Senator’s main concerns that these craft are not registered currently.
As I outlined, the legislative framework includes a range of controls to regulate the operation of jet skis. I refer specifically to the Maritime Safety Act 2005, under which local authorities, harbour authorities and Waterways Ireland may make by-laws to regulate or control the operation of jet skis in their functional areas. Such by-laws may also address matters relating to the launching of craft or the maximum speed limits at which craft may be operated. Under this Act, a range of offences and enforcement provisions may be employed in this context by authorised persons or members of An Garda Síochána.
Given conditions can vary in different parts of the country, I hope the Senator will appreciate why it is a matter for the individual by-law-making authorities to assess the specific circumstances in their areas and then to decide on the appropriate responses to those local conditions. It is reasonable that those closest to the issues and possessing local knowledge should regulate for local circumstances. I encourage the relevant authorities to explore actions permissible under the provisions of the 2005 Act if specific problems may be arising with jet skis in particular local areas or waters.”