Marking Static Gear

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Prime Minister puts a spanner in the works. Well, that's what it felt like to us in the Cruising Association (CA) when the general election was announced. At that point our petition, about Lobster Pot markers, on the Parliamentary website had about 6500 signatures. And they were all lost: because that's what happens to a Parliamentary Petition, when a General Election is called.

Coastguard incidents of fouled propellors for 2015 – 2016

Until that point, we were quite pleased that a petition about something as arcane as Improving the way static fishing gear is marked for the safety of all small craft at sea, had garnered such support. Clearly, our Petition had not been at the top of Theresa May’s agenda. With hindsight she might wish she had consulted us about the timing.

Fishermen will know that the fouling of rudders and propellers, by static fishing gear, is a bit of an old chestnut. It is not only yachtsmen and women who get caught. No matter how well the gear is marked, if the lookout neglects their duties, or one is sailing in darkness, fouling is a possibility. But some of the buoys (‘ends’ to you) are useless for visibility – you know the ones I mean, you will have come across them yourselves.

If there was a simple solution, ‘it would have been found by now’ as Robert Greenwood, NFFO Safety and Training Officer, reminded me when I met with him last week. However, as we chatted around examples where lives had been put at risk, we found common ground in a desire to not give up or to put this in the ‘too difficult’ box.

The problem of marking itself, clearly varies according to depths and tidal conditions. Again, professional fishermen understand this very well. Robert tells me that the regulations are sufficient, but there remains the question of those fishermen who ignore them.

We, in the Cruising Association, have a long history (since 1908) of cultivating positive relationships with those who work at sea. We are not in the business of telling fishermen what to do. However, everyone who respects the sea and the weather understands the risks, and shares a mutual interest in harm reduction and the preservation of life. Incidents that lead to a skipper going into the water, with his wife and daughter left on board, on a cold spring evening to try to cut his yacht free, will, one day, lead to the loss of life. Yes, a true story.

The RNLI attended about 300 fouling incidents in the last 12 months. Not all of these were lobster pots but many were.

So, when I met with Robert Greenwood. I asked for the help of the NFFO in the convening/promoting of a multi-stakeholder consultation to see what creative ideas we could mutually produce. If you think you have some solutions, we would like to hear from you. I am pleased that NFFO and the CA will be meeting again, irrespective of the outcome of the petition or the number of signatures it gets.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank fishermen throughout the UK, who have come to the assistance of yachtsmen and women. Our respect for you all is considerable.