Returning to Boating

Updates on potential guidance of a return to boating after lockdown.
07 May 20

The community we represent draws interest from people of all social and economic backgrounds for whom boating is their sport, recreation or business. These boating interests encompass vessels of many forms whether this be a large motor yacht in a marina, a small sailing dinghy maintained in the garden or a canal boat based in one of Scotland’s inland waterways. Together these interests contribute to the national club infrastructure of Scottish sport, the growth of an established industry around marine trades, marine tourism and the economy of the country, particularly in remote coastal communities.

RYA Scotland has supported the government guidance on lockdown and will continue to do so as long as is necessary to combat the Coronavirus.

The boating community have acted responsibly and patiently throughout the lockdown. Many have taken this time off the water to refresh their knowledge, have fun with e-sailing or even take a new qualification though e-learning.

RYA Scotland are working with partners and other stakeholders including British Marine Scotland and the RNLI, to understand the necessities of and plan for, as early a resumption of boating activities as is possible within regulations.

Boating in Scotland should be one of the first activities to become available as lockdown restrictions are eased.

Since the lockdown commenced, the RYA has lobbied on behalf of its members to put forward a strong case for boating to be one of the first activities that can be resumed safely within any necessary parameters for social distancing, once we start to see a relaxation of the current restrictions. We are confident that there are many aspects of boating that can be restarted safely without additional risk of transmitting Coronavirus or placing any additional pressures on frontline services.

Boating takes place outdoors and many types of boating are naturally singular in participation for example, single handed dinghy sailing, windsurfing and riding personal water craft.

With our expert knowledge of our sport and activity we believe such boating activity poses no greater risk of personal contact than the existing opportunities in jogging, walking or cycling and in this context shares many similarities with other singular water sports like kayaking and paddle boarding and indeed land based sports such as golf.

We accept that there are some aspects of boating that will not restart immediately and potentially not for some considerable time, such as large regatta competitions or long distance cruising to harbours and marinas across the Scottish Islands.

When we return to the water, we will do so responsibly.

While the detail of Government plans for easing restrictions are not yet known, the RYA has outlined the following ‘guiding principles’ that will shape its detailed response:

We will always follow Government guidance

The COVID-19 preventative measures are vital to protecting health and wellbeing and to minimising pressure on the frontline services. We all have a role to play by following the Scottish Government guidelines.

As water users, we are used to abiding by rules which govern our safety on the water and emphasise the avoidance of risk. RYA Training emphasises the need to operate within our limits, experience and capabilities as individuals and a community. We recognise that now is not the time for participants to take up new types of water sports that would increase risk.

The RYA will provide guidance and advice to show how the latest measures on social distancing, hygiene and travel can be applied to boating, showing examples of the level of activity that each phase will allow and where existing risk assessment and risk policy may need enhanced.

As both a national and international Association, we are mindful that Home Country Governments may issue their own phased plans and measures. RYA Scotland will guide the response to the Scottish Government’s plans for easing restrictions for Scottish boating.

Additionally, as we have seen to date, local authorities, harbour authorities or marinas may also interpret guidance differently. We will carefully review any industry specific guidance that impacts on boating activities, such as advice for the sport, tourism and hospitality sectors. We will work with colleagues in these industries in Scotland to inform our guidance to the Scottish boating community as well as paying particular attention to any guidance for specific sections of our community.

Where the application of Government guidance is unclear, we will seek clarification so that boaters and activity organisers can make informed decisions that meet the letter and the spirit of Government guidance.

We will, as a boating community, take a considerate and conservative approach:

  • Considerate of others:

The boating community is naturally considerate of others. Our ‘considerate’ principle builds from the rules that we already operate within, abides by the letter and the spirit of Government guidance and emphases the principles of RYA training.

We will be particularly mindful of the potential impact that we could have on other water users and will not place unnecessary extra strain on the RNLI or emergency services.

We will consider the local area and whether our chosen activity and/or location risk putting extra pressure on the RNLI or frontline services.

We will look out for others such as families on beaches or people on other boats and think about how our activity could help or hinder them and, as is always the case, boaters will keep an eye out for others and be ready to assist if trouble arises.

  • Conservative of risk:

Our activities and the training we undertake to learn about and prepare for them, involve a continuous process of risk assessment. We are constantly aware of the water conditions, are perpetually watching the weather forecast and always attuned to the nuances of our equipment. We are predisposed to being conservative in our decision making whether that is to go afloat in the first place or to alter plans on the move, to reduce risk.

As we return to the water, the RYA across the UK will emphasise the need for our boating community to take an even more conservative approach when planning to go afloat.

The RYA will re-emphasise our existing guidance on safety; know your limits; look after yourself; keep in touch and, above all, have a plan, and we will underline this with an age old maxim – “If in doubt, don’t go out”.

In common with other activities mentioned above, boating offers many health and well-being benefits to participants. Uncommonly, our range of boating options engages participation of all ages equally, with some aspects of boating activity particularly suitable for older age ranges.

Our activities engage a wide sector of marine industry which is equally confident of reopening, operating and trading in a safe and manageable way and we are working closely with colleagues in the marine and tourism industries to prepare for this opportunity.

We are acutely aware of the desperate challenges facing the tourism economy in remote and coastal locations where marine tourism is a major driver. Our activities contribute considerably to this micro sector and we wish to play our part in supporting a safe and responsible return to marine tourism.

We look forward to a time when recreational boating can resume fully and contribute to a healthier, safer and stronger Scotland. 

James Allan

Chief Executive Officer

RYA Scotland

7 May 2020

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