Time’s up for the drunken sailors

Thousands of pleasure boat sailors will be forced to obey drink drive-style laws in a move which could transform traditional tourist activities on the Broads and around East Anglia's coast.

Thousands of pleasure boat sailors will be forced to obey drink drive-style laws in a move which could transform traditional tourist activities on the Broads and around East Anglia's coast.

The Department for Transport (DfT) plan will bring 2.5 million leisure sailors and power-boat enthusiasts across the country into line with commercial sailors - and could mean they will be hit by fines of up to £5,000 or two years' jail if found to have illegally high levels of alcohol in their blood.

It comes after a series of tragic accidents. Only last week, Norfolk coroner William Armstrong warned about the dangers of mixing alcohol and boats after hearing how a devoted husband and father died in a sailing accident.

And last year, two youths died after capsizing their dinghy in Alton Waters, Suffolk.

Post-mortem examinations revealed they had taken substances, including alcohol, before the accident.

There was a mixed reaction among Broads holidaymakers yesterday.

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But Hilary Franzen, for the Broads Authority, said it was generally accepted that alcohol often forms a part of boating holidays and activities. But she urged sailors to behave responsibly.

She added: "Everybody likes to relax on a boat with a gin and tonic and we don't want to spoil anybody's fun.

"It is a particular issue on the Broads because you get a lot of holidaymakers and naturally people want to kick-back when they're on holiday.

"But people should only drink in moderation because we are all too aware of the tragic consequences than can arise.

"We advise people not to drink at all if possible as you need to keep your wits about you. We often hear of people falling overboard or returning to their boat from the pub and ending up in the water, so it is important to be vigilant at all times.

"Anything that contributes to the safety of people using the Broads is welcome but in practice this law may be difficult to police."

Alcohol laws already exist for commercial mariners who are subject to the same 80mg blood-alcohol limit applied to road users. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said four commercial sailors had been jailed or fined for working under the influence of alcohol in the past six months.

Yesterday the DfT said it was "committed" to intervening in the pleasure-boat sector. A spokesman said the department was currently investigating the possibility of secondary legislation to extend existing laws, adding: "We are at the early stages of this process."

Norfolk police already operate a Broadsbeat scheme with two officers patrolling 125 miles of waterways. Under a Broads Authority by-law fines can currently be issued for navigating while not being able to take proper control of your boat - either through drinking or drug use. But these tend to be much smaller amounts.

Martyn Webster, from Hellington, near Norwich, died when his dinghy capsized on the River Yare near Surlingham on the day before the May Day bank holiday. His blood alcohol level was later found to be nearly five times the drink drive limit.

Speaking at the inquest Mr Armstrong said: "It is always dangerous to be on the water when having consumed alcohol because there is always the risk of a mishap and once someone goes in the water having consumed alcohol it will be more difficult to get themselves out of a situation."

Of the 24 leisure mariners recorded by Marine Accident Investigation Branch as having died in an accident last year, five were alcohol-related.

Officials are unsure how to enforce new laws, because yachting is unlicensed in Britain. One possibility would be for the court to ban anyone convicted of being in charge of a boat while drunk from getting behind the helm again. Any breach of the ban would result in more severe punishment.