In an action that will send a message not only to the UK yachting scene, but to yacht operators throughout the sailing world, two commercial yacht operators have been found guilty of using unsafe yachts on trans-Atlantic voyages when carrying students signed up for Royal Yachting Association (RYA) training courses.
Happier times - Quay Three in the BVI sailing festival 2009
At Southampton Crown Court on Friday 4th February 2011, two commercial yacht operators pleaded guilty to using unsafe commercial yachts on trans-Atlantic voyages when carrying students signed up for RYA training courses.
Two separate operators, George Haworth of In2Sail Ltd and Colin Thomas of Straits Sailing had taken advantage of the growth in demand for trans-Atlantic sail training. Both used the internet to sell training courses for those wanting to go from novice to Yachtmaster Ocean.
They ran inclusive costly courses but did not have vessels equipped to the minimum levels of lifesaving equipment.
It was shown that George Haworth had sent students on a voyage from Cowes to St Lucia with a skipper that was not properly qualified on a yacht that had only the basic equipment to operate no more than 60 miles from a safe haven. The yacht ‘Quay Three’ had only one valais liferaft stowed in a locker and the only means of distress alerting was by a VHF radio (of limited range) and an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). The vessel had no qualified mate. Events on the voyage included a collision with a whale and defective steering. The parents of one of the students were horrified at the lack of safety.
They had financed the cost of their daughter, Annie Aitchison by renting out their home and living on a small yacht throughout a hard winter.
Summer Breeze of Haslar deck
Colin Thomas of Straits Sailing was endeavouring to try and get his yacht, Summer Breeze of Haslar up to the required coding category to legally do trans-Atlantic crossings from Gibraltar to the Caribbean but could not get the vessel through the required stability test. He had already taken bookings from students and sailed without a qualified mate and with only one liferaft. Mr. Thomas, an experienced Yachtmaster did not have the required qualifications to take an uncoded yacht across the Atlantic.
As soon as the RYA learned of these matters, they suspended their recognition of In2Sail and Straits Sailing
Both men pleaded guilty. George Haworth of In2Sail was fined a total of £16,000 including costs and Colin Thomas was fined a total of £17,549. Both were given a default prison sentence of 6 months if the fines were not paid within 6 months.
Simon Milne, Head of Vessel Policy in the RYA said, 'The codes of practice for small commercial vessels lay down minimum safety standards. Some sailing schools and charters go above minimum standards. In both these cases the operators fell very well short of even the expected standards.'