New boatmasters' licence will make waterways safer

A new licensing scheme for boatmen on the river Thames and across the UK will improve safety, Stephen Ladyman, Transport Minister, said today.

The new Boatmasters License (BML) follows three years of discussion with the industry and navigation authorities and will bring UK licences more closely in line with their European counterparts.

The new BML is modular and it will take a minimum of two years to obtain the 'generic' licence. Candidates will have a rigorous study and testing programme on boat-handling, seamanship skills and safety management and training. A further six months local knowledge training must be completed where local circumstances require it, including the Thames.

Boatmen who want to qualify for more specialised operations, including a sea endorsement, will need to undertake further training - up to five and a half years for the full range of skills.

Dr Ladyman, said:

"This new licence will make our waterways safer. Anyone who wants to qualify for the full range of skills currently used by the watermen and lightermen would need to train for nearly five years. However, this system is more flexible and will allow new entrants to acquire the basic skills in a shorter time if they pass the stringent examinations. Fully-qualified boatmen will have at least the same level of knowledge and skills as they do now."

"They will also have to undertake follow-up examinations on their local knowledge every five years which is not a current requirement."

"The new regime is consistent with the recommendation made by Lord Justice Clark in his report on the Thames Safety Inquiry where he identified a gap in existing national regulation which allowed freight vessels to be operated without a qualified master. In 2003, the Freight Study Group also recommended the introduction of a national licensing regime for freight operations. The other advantage of the system means that it is consistent with the rest of the EU allowing our boatmen to work in other member states."