Jet ski owners should beware as harbour authorities are welcoming the publication of a proposal to close a legal loophole whereby personal watercraft (jet skis) are beyond the scope of certain rules and regulations as to what is the ‘definition of a ship’.

A jet ski accident in Weymouth resulted in serious injury to the rider. In a court case R v Goodwin the defendant was found ‘guilty of doing an act which caused or was likely to cause serious injury” under the Merchant Shipping Act. At a subsequent hearing the defendant won an appeal as a jet ski is not ‘a vessel used for navigation’ under the Act.

Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the BPA, which represents around 400 ports and harbour facilities around the UK including all the main recreational hotspots, said: “The proposal to introduce legislation that closes the ‘definition of a ship’ loophole is both welcome and important.

“The historic case on the issue, R v Goodwin, discovered this anomaly which means certain rules don’t apply craft which are powerful and common around our coastline. Some have compared to exempting bicycles and motorbikes from the Road Traffic Act.

“We have received many reports of jet skis being operated dangerously throughout the UK and sadly there have even been fatalities in recent years.”

In 2013 two Falmouth men and a teenager were acquitted of riding jet skis carelessly after an accident in the harbour that left one of the riders with devastating injuries. They were prosecuted by Falmouth Harbour Commissioners who accused them of riding the machines without care and caution and at such a speed as it could have endangered lives or caused injury.

For their part, the FHC said the case was “hampered” by an inability to apply the marine equivalent of the Highway Code, known as “collision regulations.”

Harbour master at the time Mark Sansom said: “We are disappointed with the verdict but have no regrets in bringing the prosecution.

“It is important for all those using craft afloat to understand that there are rules about how they conduct themselves regardless of what type of activity they are undertaking.”

If successful legislation could be introduced that will allow the Police, harbour authorities and the MCA to prosecute people who act irresponsibly on the water.

Mr Ballantyne continued: “A national approach to solve this issue is needed and we are delighted to have become members of the pan industry Personal Watercraft Partnership (PWP) in the last year. These proposals support the PWP’s good work to encourage safety in the sector.

“While introducing new legislation may not address all safety and security problems, it would go a long way in ensuring jet skis are operated responsibly, and ultimately protect all types of leisure and marine users who visit our coastlines.”

Part of the consultation process centres on the issue of the consumption of alcohol when navigating a craft.