For the first time in British maritime history, everyone who takes to the water from jetskiers to the captains of passenger ferries are to be subject to a drink-drive law.
The new regulations have taken 10 years to work out since the Marchioness disaster on the Thames but have also been prompted by a growing casualty list caused by drunken hooligans on jetskis.
The law will impose the same drink limits as those currently applying to motorists and will cover British waters, including much of the English Channel, which is the busiest seaway in the world.
As part of a proposed Transport Safety Bill, police officers will have the power to board ships and test suspects. Maritime authorities will also have the right to detain vessels until tests can be conducted. And reasonable refusal to take a test will be an offence.
The Government was persuaded to tone down proposals for a "zero-tolerance" policy because the crews of deep sea ships often spend up to six months on board and regard their vessels as home. Ministers agreed that problem drinking would have been driven underground by such an approach.
Allan Graveson, the national secretary of Numast, the ships officers' union, said the government had responded positively to his organisation by recognising that seafarers needed an opportunity to "relax and socialise", and by ensuring that the rules were also applied to leisure craft.
The proposed legislation will apply to all types of waterborne vessels, including tankers and fishing boats, wherever they may be even on rivers and inland canals and to foreign ships in British waters. The new law will apply to all crew while on duty.
Keith Hill, the Transport minister, said that further consultation was needed to introduce tests for drugs. "The Government applauds the fact that many reputable ship operators already have strict alcohol policies and some run 'dry' ships," he said. "Our proposals will not affect those policies."
The proposed blood/alcohol limit will be 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, which not only applies to motorists but also to train drivers.
The rail industry invariably insists on instant dismissal when employees have been discovered abusing alcohol. The industry's rules extend to a wide range of staff from press officers to company directors not just those in safety-critical jobs.
The issue came to prominence recently when members of a British Airways flight crew were found to have been drinking heavily in the early hours of the morning before reporting for duty.
Two pilots were dismissed, another resigned and two were exonerated after an investigation by Channel Four's Dispatches programme. James Sharples and Mike Edwards, both first officers, were dismissed and a captain, Chris Salmon, resigned.
Mr Sharples was found to have flown a 737 airliner from Barcelona to Gatwick after drinking the equivalent of eight pints of beer the night before, according to the programme. Mr Sharples flew the aircraft while Mr Salmon, who had drunk the equivalent of 10 pints, slept during the journey.Reuse content