Amendments to the Water Traffic Act

Ministry of Transport and Communications
Publication date 19.6.2019 16.15
Press release
The new Water Traffic Act will update and bring together the traffic rules and signs used in water transport. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The new Water Traffic Act will update and bring together the traffic rules and signs used in water transport. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The new Water Traffic Act will update and bring together the traffic rules and signs used in water transport. The aim of the reform is to improve maritime safety and responsible boating and to provide a favourable environment for water transport automation.

The reform will also clarify the roles and responsibilities of the authorities in water transport and the relation between the Water Traffic Act and the Maritime Act. Primarily, the water traffic rules apply to both merchant shipping and pleasure boating, but the Maritime Act mainly lays down provisions on merchant shipping.

Since the international regulations on people engaged in water transport are very detailed, they also form the basis for the new act. In the reform, special consideration has been paid to the provisions required by canal traffic, including the traffic on the Saimaa Canal.

The new Water Traffic Act will enter into force on 1 June 2020.

New provisions on boatmasters of recreational craft

The reform includes a significant revision concerning the provisions on boatmasters of recreational craft.  In part, it corresponds with the provisions in the Maritime Act on professional transport but the requirements are lighter.

In future, recreational watercraft must have a boatmaster who is responsible for the transport of the vessel and the safety of its passengers. The boatmaster is the person who in fact steers or controls the craft. So the boatmaster does not have to be the person transporting the craft.  

If in the event of an accident, it is unclear as to who the boatmaster is, at the end the responsibilities of the master lie with the owner or registered holder of the watercraft, if they have, in fact, been able to influence the steering of the vessel. 

The boatmaster of the watercraft is responsible for seeing to it that the passengers are wearing flotation devices whenever conditions, such as the weather or waves, so require. As a rule, the provisions on boatmaster mainly apply to all watercraft that do no fall within the sphere of the stricter provisions of the Maritime Act.

Lighter regulation on rental boats, the sanctions system will be reformed

The Act will lighten the regulation on rental boats and the sanction system will be updated. The goal of these changes is to facilitate the renting of boats and, at the same time, the sharing economy.

The current technical and inspection requirements concerning rental boats will be waived. The rental boats with no crew will be classified as ordinary recreational craft and they will be subject to the provisions on the boatmaster of recreational craft.

In future, only rental boats with crew on board, such as taxi boats, are categorised as professional rental boating. The stricter provisions of merchant shipping concerning boatmasters are applied to professional rental boating.

In connection with the reform of the sanctions system, a traffic violation fee system will be introduced along the same lines as the system referred to in the new Road Traffic Act.

However, a fee for a water traffic violation cannot be imposed, if the watercraft has not been stopped. A traffic violation fee can be issued by the Police, Border Guard or Customs. The system will replace the current fixed fine system for lesser violations, but the level of payments will remain at the present level. The reform will not change the drink driving limit.

The new Act also includes provisions on the use of watercraft equipment, registration of watercraft, and qualification requirements for the boatmaster of a recreational vessel bigger than a recreational craft.

The Government submitted the Water Traffic Act and certain related acts for approval and the President of the Republic approved the bill on 19 June 2019.


Irja Vesanen-Nikitin, Senior Government Adviser, tel. +358 295 34 2544
Sini Wirén, Director of Unit, tel. +358 295 34 2532, Twitter: @WirenSini