Sober sailors protest drink-sail ban

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  • Tuesday 6 April 2004

Yachtsmen around the UK are furious their civil liberties are being curtailed by the introduction of drink-sailing laws.

Professional mariners are now subject to the same blood/alcohol limits as drivers, under a provision of the Railways and Transport Safety Act. While this law was activated in July 2003, the limits - 20mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood - could not be enforced until enough breathalysers were distributed to the police. The penalties are two years in prison and/or a fine of up to £5000

‘We felt it was important to bring legislation for mariners - as well as aviation professionals - in line with that of other types of transport,’ said a spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DFT).

But Commodore John Bence of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club told the Guardian newspaper, ‘Most serious sailors don't drink and sail. They drink and they sail but not together. It would be very unusual for competitive yachtsmen to have raced all day and not have a convivial evening with a few bottles of wine but most serious sailors sail with dry boats. Having strict rules will not prevent the idiots.’

The law's underlying motivation was the Marchioness disaster of 1989, in which 51 people died after a pleasure boat was rammed by a dredger whose captain and crew had been drinking heavily.

The case of Eriker Olafsson, who rammed the same luxury yacht twice, is also seen as a catalyst. The second accident happened when Olafsson – who was seen swigging from a bottle of wine – sailed over to apologise for colliding the year before.

Currently the limits apply to professional mariners on-duty on UK-registered vessels around the globe, as well as those on foreign or unregistered vessels while in UK waters. However, as of 2005, it will cover crew on certain recreational marine vessels.

Since 1994, the DFT's Marine Accident and Investigation Branch has recorded 27 deaths and 115 injuries where the suspected cause or contributing factor was alcohol or drugs.

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