Skipper’s tickets for 7m to 16.5m boats by 2020
‘Grandfather’ exemptions for existing skippers
New skippers of vessels between 7m and 16.5m will be required to hold a skipper’s certificate by 2020, under MCA plans announced by maritime minister Nusrat Ghani during the recent Maritime Safety Week, reports Tim Oliver
The minister said: “The MCA is looking, by 2020, to require skippers of vessels between 7m and 16.5m to hold a skipper’s certificate, as well as to implement a new code of practice for fishing vessels under 15m, which will include stability requirements.”
Initial discussions focused on requiring skippers of all vessels under 16.5m to hold a ticket, but the industry argued that this would make it difficult for new entrants to the industry. Their argument was accepted, and the cut-off size of 7m was agreed.
Industry representatives also persuaded the government that the requirement must not apply to existing skippers, and that there must be ‘grandfather rights’ to exempt them.
At present, anyone can skipper a vessel of up to 16.5m and take it anywhere, as long as they have a sea survival certificate. This is valid for the first three months that they skipper a vessel, but during this time, new-entrant fishermen must also acquire firefighting, first aid and new-entrant safety awareness certificates.
Skippers of 16.5-24m vessels must have a minimum of a Class 2 deck officer watch-keeping certificate, and are restricted to fishing in a given area.
Robert Greenwood, safety and training officer at the NFFO, said that the planned change had been anticipated for some time, and struck the right balance between improving safety at sea and minimising the burden on the industry.
“There’s a very good argument that the current situation is not good enough if we are serious about wanting to improve safety, and reduce accidents and losses of vessels and lives,” he told Fishing News.
“The UK doesn’t allow someone without a licence to drive a car, so it’s reasonable to expect someone taking a fishing vessel to sea, with responsibility for people’s lives and safety, to have some training and a qualification.
“It cannot be acceptable that people can enter the industry with little or no experience, buy a boat of doubtful provenance, and go to sea with an unqualified crew. In those circumstances, it is literally an accident waiting to happen.”
Robert Greenwood said that the industry had been talking to the MCA about this for some time, and had insisted that there had to be ‘grandfather rights’, so that the new rules won’t apply to existing experienced skippers.
“We have said we won’t tolerate this unless everyone who is currently doing the job is exempted and it will only apply to skippers of the future, although the admin for this will be quite difficult,” he said.
“You don’t have to register to be a skipper, so it will be difficult for the MCA to verify who is a current skipper for the purposes of grandfather rights. It’s important to know in advance how this will be implemented.
“There is also a protection element – once you’ve got grandfather rights, they should be permanent.
“The potential from this change is good – the downside is if the MCA makes the grandfather rights too complicated, or imposes unacceptable requirements, in which case the industry will be forced to object.”
Another issue is what kind of training will be required. “There is a huge range of different types and sizes of vessels in the 7-16.5m range, fishing in a wide range of different fisheries and regions,” said Robert Greenwood.
“What is the qualification we’re going to accept for a skipper of a boat between 7m and 16.5m? Is the current Seafish certificate going to be the right one?”
He drew attention to the fact that at no point is the skipper of an under-16.5m boat required to have any navigational qualification.
“If we want to get the accident and death rate down, we need to have a period of service before someone can take a vessel to sea, regardless of what training they get. You shouldn’t be able to take a boat to sea with no experience, and be in charge of a crew.”
Robert Greenwood said that the industry would need to have complete faith in grandfather rights exemptions from day one, for anyone currently skippering an under-16.5m vessel, if it was to back the new requirements.
“We will hold the MCA to its promise that grandfather rights will apply to existing skippers, and on that principle, we cautiously welcome this initiative,” he said.
“We think this is a fundamentally positive step, but there is still a long way to go to sort out the details.”