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The water-skiing controversy

The Harbour Board recently had two items of note. By far the most important was the go-ahead for the replacement of Batson pontoons this winter. This should greatly improve the facilities for small boat owners and also, with luck, free up a pontoon for Frogmore.

But the item which caused controversy was water-skiing. The problem lies outside the harbour in Starehole Bay, in the lee of Bolt Head. It is beyond the harbour limits and with no speed limit. Its sheltered water is ideal for water-skiing and it is growing so popular that it may become positively dangerous. Some say that serious high-speed collisions look increasingly likely and last year there was a reportable “near miss” when a ski boat nearly ran over a person who was bathing off a moored yacht.

It is difficult to have a rational debate under these conditions. With danger and possible loss of life there may be far-reaching liabilities for which nobody wants to take responsibility. The formal position is that Starehole Bay is open sea: can’t we leave it like that?

I suspect the answer is “not for ever”. The harbour is governed by the Port Marine Safety Code which says that, if you are aware of a danger just outside the harbour limits, you should consider extending the limits in order to reduce the danger. But even if we did extend the limits, at the moment at least, we have no idea how to regulate the water-skiing. We do know it is likely to be costly: any Harbour Board boats operating there would be required to have a high sea-worthiness certificate and a two-person crew.

So a first thought is whether there is any possibility for water skiing within the harbour. The Scoble Point to Scoble basin trial proposal was probably as good as it comes. But it illustrated all too well the limitations of trying to organise water-skiing in the harbour and would not have solved the problem of Starehole Bay. I am not surprised it was rejected.

That takes us back to Starehole Bay: do we look the other way and wait for an accident to happen after which there will almost certainly be pressure to extend the harbour limits? Or should the Harbour Board bite the bullet and take on the extra responsibilities and liabilities?  My view is that we should not consider extending the harbour limits until we have agreed how to regulate water skiing in Starehole Bay: that should be the next step. In the meantime, please take extra care in Starehole Bay.

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