Operating within the parameters of the law

(Originally published in the November/December 2019 issue of Ski-Boat magazine)

ACQUIRING a trailable craft — whether new or pre-owned — is the fervent dream of most offshore sport anglers. When that part of the dream is finally realised there’s the ultimate experience of getting to know your new craft by standing behind the controls, powering her into the sea, and then the long awaited opening of the throttles to fully realise and appreciate the reality of owning your own boat. A dream fulfilled.
Often months if not years have preceded this eventuality, during which time a multitude of decisions had to be made — decisions that in practical reality have perhaps been glossed over in order to reach the moment when your dream comes alive and the extent of all the incremental decisions made hit the harsh reality of the open ocean.
Regardless of the wide ranging pre-ordering research undertaken and the innumerable opinions sought, the final choice — and consequences — basically rests on your own shoulders. It is therefore you — now the proud captain of your own ship — who gets to enjoy the fruits of your decision or be foisted by your own petard if things go wrong.
In the world of boating there are two phrases that can make or break one’s enjoyment of the “dream boat”; they are: “take a chance” and “I didn’t know”. These are the curved balls that get thrown at all boat owners during the years of ownership and extended use of that prized acquisition.
The “take a chance” decisions can be the most difficult ones to make and can have the most far-reaching consequences. It’s the proverbial “belt and braces” scenario — when is enough good enough? When is material thickness okay and when is it too much? When are ancillary fittings too flimsy or too robust? These are just two examples of the dozens of decisions an aspiring owner has to make or accept in order to get the craft of his dreams onto the water. “Take a chance” decisions are often bade based on financial cost, and this is indeed a deciding factor in many of the aspects of acquiring a craft. One of the major decisions in this arena is the cost and importance of the trailer that will carry your craft.
The other phrase that can have far-reaching consequences is: “I didn’t know.” This is often a far more important aspect than the above where a conscious decision is made. In today’s society we have been conditioned to buy items — be it a motor vehicle, boat or any other article — that come in great packaging, but with the only technical information being supplied in the users manual or warranty card. However it’s usually only when there appears to be a problem that we resort to looking at that written literature.
When it comes to major purchases like a motor vehicle or boat we’re faced with a huge range with prices differentiating enormously throughout that range. Things can get dodgy when you’re buying “pre-loved” items, but when you acquire a new motor vehicle you presume it is 100% legal and complies with the law and standards set here in South Africa. Does anyone ever read the ordinances? Even if they do, it is doubtful that the buyer of the said vehicle checks these applicable legal requirements.
The same goes for buying a new boat; we assume it (and the trailer it comes on) complies with the laws of the country. It is this assumption that largely results in the “I didn’t know” answers when we get in trouble.
Add to the assumption is the ever increasing responsibility when boats are often towed long distances over rough roads. The “law of the land” regarding trailering often only come to our attention when there’s an accident or routine inspection by law enforcement officers. Suddenly there are consequences for the boat’s owner who really did presume his rig was 100% but suddenly finds himself falling foul of the law.
Over the last two decades SKI-BOAT magazine has carried a number of articles covering some precarious aspects of boat ownership, especially with regard to safety on the road. It might be worth your while to have a look at these:
• November 2004: The long haul — How safe are you when towing your boat?
• April 2009: Towing — Legal or Illegal — The rules are complicated and involved.
• May 2009: Brake now — Ensuring your trailer brakes fill the legal requirements.
• March 2016: Overcoming your nemesis — How to choose the ideal 4×4.
• May 2016: Overcoming your nemesis — Choosing the right tyres and tyre pressure.
These were all in line with our desire to continue informing boat owners of their legal as well as safety requirements, primarily while towing their rigs. The ever increasing movement of boats around South Africa and especially into Moçambique, where the improved road conditions have led to higher speeds being used and much greater traffic volumes, unfortunately increases the risk factor and brings into play the possibility of legal liabilities if all the legal requirements have not been met.
Back issues are available for those who want to read the articles mentioned higher up, but in the next few issues of the magazine we’ll be revisiting some of these issues to help enlighten those boat owners who “did not know” they weren’t complying with the law. Topics to be covered include:
• Legality of towing — trailer/
boat/tow vehicle/gross vehicle mass/gross combined mass.
• Trailer brakes & legal requirements
• Trailer tyres — legal tyre & load ratings
• Trailer suspension

TOEING THE LINE — The rules are complicated

THE laws in South Africa pertaining to towing, trailer weights, trailer braking and gross vehicle mass as well as driver’s licence categories are all set out in the comprehensive and voluminous South African Road Traffic Act.
Whilst this Act pertains largely to the trailering and trailers of the long distance transport fraternity, there is a specific section that covers light load trailer and boat trailers.
During early to mid-2009 a number of rigs — tow vehicle, boat and trailer — were pulled off the road due to apparent non-compliance of the said Act. As a result SADSAA sought guidance from a specialist attorney who explained the full implications of the Act and also the serious problems that a boat owner could face from a routine roadside inspection by a traffic officer or, more worryingly, if the rig proved unroadworthy at the time of an accident.
As an example, if a rig was ordered to a roadside weigh station facility and and was deemed not road worthy because of its gross combined mass, apart from incurring a hefty fine, the boat and trailer would be impounded. They would stay at the weigh station until the owner could get another vehicle that complied with the gross vehicle mass requirements to come along and hitch up his boat for removal. A logistical nightmare!
First make sure your driver’s licence is valid before embarking on any long haul, especially if it’s into Moçambique. The licence of the driver not only has to be current, but also has to be valid for the weight of the trailer being towed.
The law clearly states that a driver with a category B licence is only permitted to drive a vehicle weighing under 3 500kg and to tow a trailer weighing less than 750kg.
An EB licence entitles the driver to drive a vehicle weighing less than 3 500kg while towing a trailer and boat not exceeding 3 500kg. If a vehicle exceeds 3 500kg the driver is required to have a PDP (professional driving permit).
The combination of towing vehicle and trailer weight is a very important part of staying within the bounds of the law. The tare of the tow vehicle is an important factor. This comprises of the vehicle itself together with the supplied accessories that form a permanent part of the standard vehicle but does not include what is loaded into or onto the vehicle for the journey. The gross vehicle mass is the maximum mass of the vehicle fully loaded including fuel and is the total weight the vehicle is permitted to weigh according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
The National Road Traffic Act of 1996 sets out the requirements of the tow vehicle’s tare and the gross vehicle mass of the trailer loaded as well as the braking system required for the trailer. It is essential that road users comply fully with these regulations.

We won’t go into detail regarding trailer tyres now because that will be fully covered in the next issue of SKI-BOAT magazine, but all those travelling to Moçambique during the December holidays are strongly advised to carry two spare tyres for the trip.
There are vast distances between tyre repair opportunities in Moçambique and that becomes a huge worry if you’ve had to utilise your spare and you don’t have another one. Most of those who regularly tow rigs to Moçambique carry a second spare because compatible replacement tyres are not only difficult to obtain, but getting a replacement can often take a good deal of time as well. In this case it’s definitely better to go the belt and braces route and take a second spare.

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