Are you a skipper, driver, or both?

The following sad case shows that pleasure boating with too much alcohol can also become unpleasant boating.

After a visit to a bar, one of G.’s friends would like to take the helm of G’s sturdy speedboat. While passing under a bridge at too high a speed, the friend misjudges the height and hits his head against the stone bridge edge. He dies at the scene. G. is criminally prosecuted, he is summarily charged with culpable homicide. G., as skipper, allowed a passenger without a license and under the influence of alcohol to steer the ship, making the accident his fault.
Could G. be regarded as skipper of the boat at the time of the accident? G. does not think so: because the friend had been at the helm, he should be regarded as the skipper. Articles 1.02 to 1.04 of the Inland Waterways Police Regulations (BPR) impose the obligation on the skipper, in the absence of explicit regulations, to take all precautionary measures which are required according to good seamanship or by the circumstances[1] in which the vessel finds itself.

Factual or authoritative?
The parliamentary history shows a distinction between the skipper (driver) who actually determines the course and speed of the vessel and the person who acts as the authoritative skipper. Both may be skippers within the meaning of the BPR without these having to be united in the same person. The BPR stipulates that the skipper of a high-speed motorboat is responsible for compliance with Articles 8.05 and 8.06 in particular, precisely because the skipper is not always the same person as the person who drives a high-speed motorboat.

The court found that G. had not fully (explicitly) transferred authority. Although G. had stepped down as “de facto skipper” and the victim was behaving as “de facto skipper”, G. was still “authoritative skipper” within the meaning of the BPR. The court also ruled that the alcohol consumption was too high to properly operate the boat and G’s actions were judged to be significantly careless. G. was convicted of culpable homicide.

The court, contrary to what was demanded by the prosecutor, did not impose a sentence on G.
The judge considered the impact of the case sufficient punishment in itself. The prosecutor appealed and the Court of Appeal found a punishment to be appropriate, in addition to the forfeiture of G’s boat. The Court of Appeal imposed community service and a denial[1] of the authority to operate ships (to be in charge of).

So you remain (almost) always responsible for your boaters! Just like behind the wheel of a car, a maximum alcohol level of 0.5 applies at the helm. A fine can be imposed for sailing under the influence of alcohol. In a serious case, the license may also be denied.

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Frits Hommersom met groene bril

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