Guidance for boaters (updated 01/05/20)

As the COVID-19 lockdown continues, the Government message to tackle the spread of the virus is clear, STAY HOME – PROTECT THE NHS – SAVE LIVES. The UK Government and devolved administrations must review the lockdown measures at least once every 21 days. The first review took place on 16 April and the lockdown was extended for three weeks until 7 May when the restrictions and requirements set out in the regulations must be reviewed again. Currently, the Government has said that the overall length of the lockdown could be around three months and warned it might only be “adjusted” rather than lifted altogether.

We are strictly following the Government guidance, so our staff are working from home but you can still contact us on our published telephone numbers and email addresses as all operations continue at this time.

Recreational boating in the UK

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 have now been enacted to bring in powers to enable the Government and its agencies to manage the Coronavirus crisis in the UK. Provision 6(1) of the Regulations deals with restrictions on movements and states ‘during the period of emergency no one may leave the place where they live without reasonable excuse’. Examples of what constitutes a reasonable excuse are listed in Provision 6(2) of the Regulations. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own regulations but the restrictions and requirements are essentially the same, however, in Wales it is now illegal to exercise more than once a day and to do so is potentially a criminal offence.

The Prime Minister’s statement recognised that “it is very important for people’s mental and physical well-being that they should be able to go out and exercise if they possibly can” and the Regulations permit people to leave home ‘to take exercise either alone or with members of their household’. The Government has made it clear that such exercise should be taken locally to home and within the guidelines for social distancing. It has also asked us not to travel unnecessarily, although the Regulations themselves do not prescribe this.

The Government has advised that marinas should be closed in line with caravan parks, although marina operators are not specifically required to do so under the Regulations. We have increasingly seen harbour authorities and navigation authorities introduce measures and guidance in respect of recreational boating. Please monitor the website of the organisation that manages the facilities where your boat is kept.

Whatever your activity there is the additional concern that if something goes wrong, however unlikely that may seem, there is the potential that you will put further and avoidable pressure on the emergency services. These are exceptional times and the RYA calls on all recreational boaters, not only to comply with the Regulations, but to act responsibly and adhere to the Government’s Regulations to help limit the spread of the virus.

If significant numbers of people are seen to be taking part in recreational boating or going to their boats for whatever excuse they can think of while the general movement restrictions are in force then the Government might see fit to introduce a specific prohibition on recreational boating. Given that regulators are often much more reluctant to lift prohibitions than they are to impose them, recreational boating is likely to be able to resume more quickly if it is not specifically prohibited.

Private boat insurance during the Coronavirus lockdown

With the current COVID-19 pandemic forcing the country into lockdown, the RYA has received a considerable number of enquiries from those who are not able to gain access to their boats because most marinas are now shut.

Many insurance policies will include conditions relating to “keeping the boat in a seaworthy condition” and will have exclusions relating to “lack of maintenance” and “gradual ingress of water”. In the current lockdown, the majority of us will not be able to visit our boats for long periods and there is an obvious risk that losses may occur which would usually be preventable through regular attendance and maintenance.

The RYA’s advice to all our members is that you MUST check your insurance policy with your insurers no matter what the policy itself actually states. This is because in the majority of cases it will pre-date the Covid-19 pandemic measures that have now been put in place. Our understanding is that most, if not all, will be willing to extend the period when boats are left unattended and we would be surprised if any insurer refused to extend this provision, although there is likely to be a condition that the vessel must have been adequately maintained prior to lockdown. We have published a lockdown insurance update from Bishop Skinner Marine on the RYA website.

Access to boats in marinas

The RYA is making representations to Government and the marinas sector trade body, The Yacht Harbour Association (TYHA) regarding the issues for boat owners arising out of the closure of marinas. This reflects the concerns of members who have contacted us about their inability to access their boats and protect their assets. We are acutely aware that worries about boat security, maintenance and the impact on insurance cover are all are creating anxiety and stress for boat owners at this time.

We are also making the case that there are many people who could visit their boat while adhering strictly to Government guidelines on hygiene and social distancing. For many, the opportunity to spend time on their boat and possibly do some simple maintenance or cleaning would greatly enhance their well-being and provide peace of mind in respect of the issues of concern.

Marina charges

We have also seen a surge in calls and emails from people who are suddenly facing significant price increases from some marina operators even though they cannot access their boats. Many who have been on winter contracts are being told that fees will be increased to summer rates from 1 April. Some who were due to move their boats have been told they will move to a daily rate until they do so.

This issue has been raised with TYHA who have coordinated discussion within the industry and it is understood that many marina operators are now in dialogue with berth holders and taking a reasonable approach. The RYA advises boat owners to monitor the website of the marina where their boat is kept and to enter into dialogue with the marina manager. Any members needing further help on this issue should email cruising@rya.org.uk.

UK Canals and Rivers

Update on 16 April 2020: With Government extending the Coronavirus lockdown period to 9 May 2020, the Canal & River Trust is accordingly extending the suspension of the normal requirement for boats to move every 14 days to 9 May.  During this period, boaters do not need to contact the Trust to tell them that they will be staying in one location for more than 14 days.  The Canal & River Trust has produced a comprehensive set of frequently asked questions regarding coronavirus and UK inland boating.

Following the recent announcement from the Prime Minister about the UK’s heightened response to the Coronavirus emergency, the Environment Agency (EA) has taken the difficult decision to introduce limits to the use of its waterways to stop all non-essential travel. As such, the EA is asking the owners of all boats kept or used on its managed waterways not to make any journeys on their boats, other than to access essential services and facilities.

The joint owners of the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) have extended the temporary extension to safety certificates for those craft requiring an examination to 30 April 2020. Navigation Authorities and licensing bodies will maintain a record of those boats having extended BSS recognition and will still expect that owners of boats with BSS extensions to have a BSS Examination as soon as possible once restrictions are lifted.

Staying safe is essential and keeping others safe a responsibility, so boat owners must continue to maintain their boats in accordance with the BSS Requirements. Any owner wanting to check that their boat continues to be compliant can run through the requirements using the BSS Examination Checking Procedures found at www.boatsafetyscheme.org/boat-examination-and-certification/.

Owners are advised to check any implications for their boat’s insurance cover with the broker or underwriter linked to the temporary licensing waiver of BSS Certification.

Canal & River Trust to extend boat licences by one month

The Canal & River Trust is extending all boat licences by one month in response to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.  The situation will be assessed again in a month’s time when a further view will be taken about the extent and likely timescales around the Coronavirus disruption on boating.

All boat licences that are due to expire at the end of April will be extended by one month to run until the end of May.  All other current boat licences will be similarly extended by a month from their current expiry date.

With the crisis affecting the Trust’s income and funds available to look after the network, it is asking those able to afford it to ‘donate’ the extra month’s licence fee back to the Trust – using the ‘donate’ button on the charity’s website.

A message from Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust which has been sent to recipients of the Trust’s Boaters Update, is available online.

Recreational boating abroad

On 30 March the Government updated it global travel notice which advised UK nationals travelling abroad to return to the UK while there are still commercial flights available. The global travel notice now advises against all non-essential travel abroad due to unprecedented international border closures and travel restrictions being imposed without advance warning.

This update reflects the pace at which international travel is becoming more difficult with the closure of borders, airlines suspending flights, airports closing, exit bans and further restrictions being introduced daily. If applicable, British travellers should contact their tour operator or airline now.

The RYA advises recreational boaters to follow the advice from the UK Government. We are aware that this may be difficult, particularly when considering where to locate boats for the forthcoming hurricane season and because coastal states are increasingly closing their borders including to recreational craft, or as a minimum imposing a period of self-isolation or quarantine.

The right of a foreign ship to stop and anchor in coastal waters should it find itself in distress is explicitly referred to in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Where safety of life is involved, the provisions of the SAR Convention should be followed. The right to stop and anchor does not, however, amount to a right to enter the internal waters or ports of a coastal state. It is a matter for each coastal state to determine whether and, if so, on what terms a vessel may enter a port within its jurisdiction. In the current climate, it can be expected that many coastal states will take measures to tackle Coronavirus which include closing their sea borders.

Within the wider cruising community there are reports of boats being turned away from their chosen destination on arrival, therefore the advice is if you are safely moored and are allowed to stay, then it is advisable to do so.

In particular, setting off on passage or to remote places during the Coronavirus pandemic is inadvisable. Communities that would in normal circumstances welcome cruising yachtsmen may now see you as a threat, particularly more remote destinations which will not have the capacity to treat serious cases. Any exposure brought to their populations could be devastating and if you have an accident or are taken ill, healthcare may simply be non-existent. Be aware, particularly if you are undertaking a longer passage then the situation in your destination (no matter how well researched before departure) may have changed by the time you arrive.

Noonsite provides a considerable amount of information that may help recreational boaters abroad and its Covid-19 document has guidance as well as links to all the latest developments. Noonsite will also publish updates on the world situation as it changes and countries extend their lockdowns, so keep an eye on the Noonsite homepage. There are also a number of field reports on the site at https://www.noonsite.com/report/ which may be of interest. These give an overview of what recreational boaters are experiencing in around the world and the situation you are likely to find on arrival in other countries.

Noonsite, working with the Ocean Cruising Club, has put together details of ports for cruisers making their way back to Europe across the Atlantic.  The list, published on Noonsite, is also available to download as a pdf so that it can be referred to offline, when underway.  Due to the evolving nature of the situation, this information is not static.  Updates and fresh information received will be added and the pdf amended at regular intervals.  Please share any new information or updates you may have with editor@noonsite.com.

If you are in difficulty abroad, contact the relevant British Embassy or Consulate for advice and assistance.

Arriving in the UK by recreational boat

Unlike many other countries, there is so far no blanket ban on arriving in the UK by recreational boat but if you try to do so you may none the less find your arrival problematic. Port facilities and marinas are closing and other authorities are taking whatever steps they have within their powers to stop or restrict recreational boating.

Some UK ports have introduced requirements for vessels (including recreational boats) arriving from outside the UK to complete and submit a health declaration on arrival. The requirements have been notified via local notices to mariners. Check local notices to mariners regularly for updated instructions and closures.

Once in the UK recreational boaters will be expected to adhere to the current UK Government ‘stay at home’ instructions.

What if a contract I have entered is unlikely to be performed?

Members of the RYA community are likely to have entered a range of contracts before the COVID-19 pandemic. From charter agreements, RYA courses to contracts for services the effect of the current situation is being felt across the boating community. The position is developing daily, with unprecedented government involvement. The RYA Legal Team has drafted guidance intended to provide a helpful starting point, but you may also need to seek independent legal advice.

To get in touch

Should members require any advice related to the guidance on this page please do not hesitate to get in touch. Your point of contact for this is the RYA Cruising Team on +44 (0) 23 8060 4233 or email cruising@rya.org.uk.

Page updated: 1 May 2020