The investigation was launched by the Dorset Marine Policing Team and Poole Harbour Commissioners into the dangerous use of the motor vessel Sonic, which was reported as travelling at excessive speed and causing a danger to other water users in the Wareham and Poole Harbour area on Saturday 29 August 2020.
After admitting an offence under the Merchant Shipping (Safety of Navigation) Regulations 2020, a 30-year-old man from Hertfordshire received a community resolution notice, which aims to make first-time offenders make good the harm cause by their actions.
As part of his conditions, the man will have to undertake a RYA (Royal Yachting Association) approved boat handling course prior to any future use of marine vessels in Dorset’s waters. He is also required to pay any unpaid harbour dues owed to Poole Harbour Commissioners and write a letter of apology to the Environment Agency, which owns and manages the River Frome and protects its diverse wildlife.
This outcome is the first of its kind under the new legislation, which creates offences where those in command of vessels fail to navigate safety.
Dorset’s Marine Policing Team is working closely with local authorities, the marine industry, the leisure sector and charitable organisations to review byelaws and create new methods of dealing with marine offending in the county’s waters, particularly for first time offenders.
Marine Policing Team co-ordinator Roan Doyle, of Dorset Police, said: “In this case we saw substandard navigation skills, excessive speeds and a disregard for other water users. Together these create a recipe for disaster.
“Nobody was injured, but the risk was very real. What we’ve seen repeatedly is use of boats and other watercraft by individuals who have no training or experience in handling them, nor any awareness of the byelaws and restrictions in place.
“Ignorance is no excuse and anybody intending to head out on the water must familiarise themselves with their obligations. However, where marine offending is low level, a first marine offence and the individual concerned shows remorse for their actions, Dorset Police will use the community resolution process to effectively require them to undergo training at their own cost to address the underlying issue.
“Repeat offenders, where offending is serious and poses an immediate danger to life, or those who do not admit wrongdoing will be ineligible to receive a community resolution and existing court processes may be followed on the basis of the evidence of the individual case.”
Captain Brian Murphy, of Poole Harbour Commissioners, said: “We will continue to work alongside the Marine Policing Team and other authorities to deter dangerous behaviour in Poole Harbour. And we will continue to educate harbour users of their duty of care and help raise awareness of the byelaws that are in place to protect them, our wildlife, the environment and of course other harbour users.
“I hope the new legislation and the resolution of this case will serve as a warning to others. The rules are in place to protect lives and to ensure everyone can enjoy their time on the water safely. If you break the rules there will be consequences.”
Environment Agency Fisheries Specialist Stuart Kingston-Turner said “The speed limit on the River Frome is four knots. This speed limit exists to help ensure the safety of all those that use our river, as well as for the protection of the flood banks, property and the wider environment.
“We have a large number of people enjoying the river from experienced mariners to people hiring a dinghy or canoe who may be on the water for the first time. Exceeding the speed limit increases the risk of damage and public safety. We will continue to work closely with the Dorset Marine Policing Team to address issues when they occur on the river.”