Yesterday in Southampton, we attended a meeting with the MCA / Coastguard, which could be one of the most significant steps forward in the hovercraft industry for 50 years.
The meeting, hosted by Simon Milne, head of vessel Standards, is something I've been negotiating ('nagging' according to Simon!) for over a year as current legislation was preventing the use of small hovercraft for commercial applications such as weed spraying, survey work, environmental inspections, crew transfer, standby and safety applications and the like. Small craft operating close to shore in categorised water and over mudflats bear more relevance to 'equipment' than vessels and as such will be exempted from a 'coding' requirement with the reponsibility for safe operation being administered under an industry voluntary code of conduct and HSA regulations. With the framework discussed and broadly agreed yesterday, the door is open for us to supply hovercraft to numerous small businesses to legally utilise the unique abilities of these craft.
With more stringent regulations and craft specification, it will even be possible for to use the new BBV500 hovercraft for broader commercial applications such as ride giving and passenger movement - ie for hire or reward.
In short, in line with government policy, the industry will become more self-regulatory. We also agreed other relevant requirements such as driver qualifications and experience.
The meeting was attended by the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain, Griffon Hovercraft, Hovercraft Society, the BIS, Lloyds register and existing commercial operator, Dr James Thurlow from Intertidal, who contributed a lot of practical advice and experience to proceedings.
It is hoped that these changes can be implemented by the end of 2013, but the wheels of government can turn rather slowly, and with exemptions and policy documents required, it's likely to stretch into next year before its all finalised.