International watersports event organiser condemns planned law changes

One of the country’s leading figures in the world of watersports has voiced his concerns over plans to make changes in the law, which could potentially see windsurfers and kayakers fined £50,000 and jailed if involved in an accident on the water. Gary Willingham, whose watersports event, the Animal Windfest, has brought some of the biggest names in wind-surfing and kite-boarding to Poole, Dorset for the last 11 years, fears that the proposed amendments to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1995 will discourage people from taking up watersports in general.

The changes would see unpowered craft (which include canoes, kayaks, sailboards and surfboards) reclassified as “ships” and would bring operators under the same regulations as merchant vessels. As a consequence, users face prison and fines of up to £50,000 if they are held liable for any accidents. Windsurfers, families in dinghies or a beginner oarsman could be prosecuted if they collided with a swimmer and anyone out on the water would be liable to a random breath test.

Gary says; “This proposal is a strange one. It’s practically impossible to police, it’s aimed at the wrong people and, most of all, it confuses a fairly straight-forward situation.

“There’s a clear difference between powered and unpowered craft and there are rules already in place on beaches governing their use. This particular piece of legislation should definitely be changed to include jet-skis because they are powered craft but if you include kayaks and surfboards, where will you draw the line? Do you prosecute people who have accidents on lilos or bodyboards?

“It’s the equivalent of applying the same rules used for cars to cyclists, skateboarders or even little kids with “heelys” shoes. You wouldn’t treat a child on heelys who collides with another person in the same way as you would a driver who runs over a pedestrian.

“Perhaps the most worrying part of this is that it will put people off taking up great sports like wind-surfing and kite-boarding, and that would be a huge shame.”

The Animal Windfest will be held in Sandbanks, Poole between the 11-13 September this year. Windfest is the South’s only free three-day watersports event. Go to for more information on parties, competitions and much, much more.