Navigating Safety: The New UK Watercraft Regulations of 2023

The Merchant Shipping (Watercraft) Order 2023 is a new law that regulates the safe operation of personal watercraft and other powered recreational craft in the UK. It aims to prevent the dangerous and negligent misuse of watercraft that can pose a risk to human life and the environment.

The order was made on 16th January 2023 and came in force on 31st March 2023.

The law defines a watercraft as a type of craft that can move under its own mechanical power, used, navigated, or situated wholly or partly in or on water, and able to carry one or more persons. So, this now includes power boats, RIBS, tenders, sailing dinghies and keel boats that are fitted with or carry a motor.

It also allows owners of watercrafts to register them as a small ship on Part III of the UK Ship Register but is not compulsory.  Registration can provide proof of ownership, nationality and legal status of a watercraft.

RYA Director of External Affairs, Mel Hide said ‘The RYA welcomes the intent of the new legislation, safe enjoyable boating remains our top priority and the new Merchant Shipping (Watercraft) Order will be an important part of safety on the water. We look forward to working with the Department for Transport and supporting them with the on-going development of legislation to maintain the current high safety standards.’

Overall, this new law enables the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and other enforcement authorities to prosecute those who operate watercraft in a dangerous or negligent manner, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment.