Charter boats untied – but questions remain

Picture: Colin Smith.

Dive charter-boats in England can get back to business, and club-boats can take larger groups aboard from Saturday, 4 July, now that the government has withdrawn confusing guidance it issued on 11 June.

That guidance from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) had prevented all use of charter boats, although operators had received mixed messages as to whether the restriction applied to coastal as well as inland waters, as reported on Divernet.

The guidance had also restricted the use of an individual club or privately owned dive-boat to single household units or support bubbles.

The relaxation announced on 1 July follows lobbying from the charter-boat industry as well as scuba and angling bodies, but the details have still to be announced. Vessels need to meet Covid-secure requirements, and up to six members of separate households can now be accommodated as long as social distancing is maintained.

Outdoor social distancing requirements remain at 2m, but if that is not always possible the new “1m-plus” guidance can be applied – as long as “additional precautions” are taken.

The Professional Charter Association had been telling its members since 23 June that they could prepare to resume operations from 4 July with new rules to be disclosed, PCA chairman Ian Winson told Divernet.

But he pointed out that a final directive was still awaited from DEFRA, and foresaw problems in managing aspects such as social distancing.

“Opening is two days away with nothing issued bar an email that has no detail, so we have no idea how members and operators can comply without the notice,” he said.

“Dive-boats will depend on size – RIBs will be greatly reduced but a large dive-boat with open decks can achieve good numbers.”

Most PCA members planned a return with restrictions, said Winson, “but I also know of others who say they won’t open yet because restricted numbers will make it untenable in terms of cost versus income”.

2 July 2020

“I believe some associations were driving the DEFRA notice rather than challenging it,” he added. “Some people we have spoken to will not be renewing with those associations next year, while we have seen a good rise in new members.”

UK diving’s governing body the British Sub-Aqua Club, which had also challenged the government on its ruling, issued preliminary advice on the use of both club and charter boats in its comprehensive Safe Return to Diving guidance in May.

“We are all delighted that this change has been acknowledged by DEFRA,” said CEO Mary Tetley. “Working together with all of the other agencies has only strengthened our lobbying on conflicting advice.”