Have fun but kept safe

How much legislation is too much legislation? Richard Falk, RYA Director of Training and Qualifications, looks at safety in the yachting industry surrounding the use of Personal Water Crafts

If you are working on the water the chances are that you are not there due to your love for bureaucracy, red tape and government imposed regulation. Most of us accept that some level of regulation is necessary to ensure safety is maintained for both guests and crew. However, it is fair to say that our hope is that regulation is limited to that which is needed, rather than legislation merely for the sake of it.

Very few industries these days work without some form of legislative controls in place. Those that do, have generally managed to achieve a significant level of ‘self¬regulation’. Put simply, where an industry can demonstrate that it is able to safely manage itself and its operation, government is far less likely to feel the need to step in, create a raft of draconian and unhelpful laws and then set about enforcing them. Step back to the early 2000s. Whilst vessels and crew within the yachting industry were already subject to various port and flag state maritime regulations, there was one aspect of the sector that was not. Personal Watercraft (PWCs) had continued to grow in popularity within yachting and by some fluke had, to date, managed to avoid becoming bound in red tape by the maritime world.

As with most things in life that are neither regulated nor able to follow established guidelines or examples of good practice, it was only a matter of time until the train was likely to come off the rails.

It is no great surprise that when you mixed high speed equipment and inexperience together, the outcome was a reasonably steady stream of serious incidents resulting in near misses, injuries and in some cases fatalities. The yachting industry, led by the PYA (now known as the Professional Yachting Association) approached the RYA to seek its help.

The industry was looking for a solution to a problem. It needed something that would allow safe and consistent PWC training on board yachts, whilst at the same time providing evidence that the training had taken place. The training and the associated evidence needed to be credible enough that it would be accepted by a range of port authorities all over the world. Most importantly, the training needed to result in a safe operating environment that greatly reduced the likelihood of accidents and unsafe or anti-social use of PWC’s associated with the yachting industry.

The RYA already had a long history of training people in practical on-the-water activities for many different forms of craft. Some years earlier the RYA had created its own PWC proficiency scheme which had been well received, both in the UK and Europe. Discussions ensued, consultation across the industry was undertaken and in around 2007 the RYA PWC Safety Scheme was launched to the superyacht industry.

Since 2007 the number of superyachts that hold RYA recognition for the delivery of RYA PWC courses has grown to more than 400. That number continues to grow as awareness of the scheme expands and the requirement for some form of evidence of PWC proficiency is enforced more rigorously around the world.

What is the RYA PWC Safety Scheme and why is it so popular?
The concept is simple. RYA-trained instructors, a structured training course for students, personal watercraft and supporting safety boat, established safety management systems, carefully controlled certification processes and an annual inspection regime by an RYA inspector. Hey presto! There you have a scheme that has simultaneously had a massive impact on the reduction of the number of PWC accidents, whilst at the same time providing port authorities the world over with confidence that the holder of an RYA PWC Safety Certificate is sufficiently competent to operate the craft within their jurisdiction.

The RYA Training Recognition process is all about quality. The most important aspect of any of the RYA Training schemes is the training that each and every RYA instructor must undergo before they are qualified to teach. Potential PWC instructors are no different. They should ensure they have adequate experience on PWCs themselves before putting themselves forward for training as an instructor. Once trained, the instructor can take charge of responsibility for the delivery of RYA PWC training on board the yacht.

Prior to RYA Training Recognition status being granted to the yacht, the crew member on board who has been designated to take responsibility for the RYA Training activities will need to have carefully prepared risk assessments, operating procedures and various other documents to support the proposed training. Once all of this is done an application for RYA recognition can be submitted and an inspection arranged.

The inspection process is of course intended to ensure compliance with the necessary high standards of RYA Training. However, it is also intended to provide the opportunity for the on board instructors and any other relevant crew to seek input from and ask questions of the inspector, all of whom are RYA Instructor Trainers and have a wealth of knowledge to share.

Following an inspection there may well be some further actions required to iron out details, but generally speaking RYA Recognition can usually be granted very soon after an inspection has taken place. From then on, training materials and certificates can be ordered and delivery of training for guests can commence. In order to maintain RYA Training Recognition status the yacht will need to undergo an annual inspection of its RYA PWC operation, during which time compliance is again assessed and the instructors provided with further opportunity to gain valuable knowledge from the inspector and, access updated materials on an ongoing basis.

What does the guest see?
The training is all about the guest and how to teach them practically what they need to know to safely use and enjoy a PWC in the context of the yacht from which they are operating.

Training will begin with a good explanation of the equipment whilst on board the yacht and a safety briefing outlining the key DOs and DON’Ts. From there it is time to go afloat with the instructor and a small number of guests to first demonstrate and then allow practice under supervision of the various key aspects of PWC operation.

The instructor is able to use his or her discretion as to how long the session or sessions need to be, which will usually be determined by the number of guests involved and the speed with which they pick up the necessary information and skills. As a guide however, courses are a minimum of 1 hour but may take a little longer depending on a variety of factors. The emphasis is on safety whilst at the same time keeping it fun. Once completed, the guest will be issued with a plasticised photo certificate that can be carried whilst afloat for presentation to authorities. The certificate is valid for the duration of the guests time aboard the yacht.

Thinking of adopting the RYA PWC Safety Scheme? If you would like to know more about gaining RYA Training Recognition for this incredibly popular and useful scheme.

For more details: email [email protected]
or visit www.rya.org.uk/training