On 11 June 2020, we reported that the UK Government had issued “guidance on inland and coastal boating and protecting yourself and others from coronavirus.”
The DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) guidance included a section relating to “skippered day-boat hire and skippered day charter hire” and stated “operators should not allow skippered day boat hire or skippered day charter boat hire.” In other words, it prevented charter boats from sailing with scuba divers and anglers in English waters.
SITA is worried that many charter boat businesses have not been able to access Government grants because they own boats, not rateable businesses.
The decision by DEFRA was of deep concern for the British scuba diving industry and the Professional Boatman's Association because many of these small businesses have not met the criteria for COVID-19 grants. Without any income or grants, these companies will not survive, and divers and anglers will lose access to highly experienced skippers and well-run boats.
The Government department was therefore actively lobbied by a number of NGOs, including the Angling Trust, the British Sub Aqua Club, the Professional Boatman's Association, the Scuba Industries Trade Association and the Royal Yachting Association. These organisations questioned the science behind DEFRA's guidance, and reinforced the message that there appeared to be a misunderstanding by the government as to how scuba divers and anglers use charter boats. The DEFRA guidance seemed confused.
The organisations also highlighted to DEFRA that that none of the user groups of the charter boats, nor indeed the Professional Boatman’s Association, were contacted or expertise sought by DEFRA, prior to their announcement on 11 June.
Independence Day for Boat Diving
Today (Wednesday, 1 July 2020), DEFRA has announced that they are withdrawing their guidance on “Using a boat inland and on the coast” from Saturday, 4 July 2020.
This now means that scuba divers and anglers will be able to use a charter boat with up to six members of different households as long as social distancing is maintained. At present, COVID-19 social distancing in the UK remains at 2 m (6.5ft) whilst outdoors.
The virus hasn’t gone away, so divers must still protect each other...and use any other necessary precautions to prevent infection and the spread of the disease. BDSG
The news that charter boat diving is opening up in England has been positively welcomed by all the organisations involved with the lobbying.
Phil Higgins of the Professional Boatman's Association said "working alongside the Angling Trust and the diving sector we have finally managed to get the misguided government guidance changed to reflect our operations. I think this has strengthened our friendship so all can work as a team from now on."
BSAC CEO, Mary Tetley confirmed that the training agency was delighted that this change has been acknowledged by DEFRA. "Working together with all of the other agencies has only strengthened our lobbying on conflicting advice."
We are pleased that our lobbying, along with other NGO's, has encouraged DEFRA to update their advice. SITA
Rosemary E Lunn, SITA Board Member said "the DEFRA guidance of the 11 June 2020 was financially hurting our members and the charter boats livelihood. We are pleased that our lobbying, along with other NGO's, has encouraged DEFRA to update their advice, so that English scuba diving from charter boats can resume from Saturday 4 July<.i>."
John Soones, Chairman of the British Diving Safety Group stated "The BDSG is pleased we can return to boat diving from July 4th. Don’t forget, the virus hasn’t gone away, so Divers must still protect each other. You should still practice social distancing and use any other necessary precautions to prevent infection and the spread of the disease. Stay safe!"