Coxswains must keep a passenger list and ensure all children aboard are wearing lifejackets on boats sailing to Victoria Harbour for the New Year's Eve fireworks display - or face prosecution.
The Marine Department's new rules follow calls to tighten safety measures on boats after 39 people were killed in the collision between two ferries off Lamma Island on October 1.
The two requirements were previously issued as non-legally binding advice for fireworks shows. The department will deploy more vessels and officers on New Year's Eve for inspections.
Raymond Chung Siu-man, the department's assistant director, said he expected around 100 vessels would be in the harbour during the fireworks display, with most of them near the Convention and Exhibition Centre. Officers would check at popular boarding points that children were wearing lifejackets and would ask coxswains to provide a list of passengers, he said.
If the two requirements are not complied with, officers will order them to do so on the spot. Boats could be barred from setting sail, and the coxswains prosecuted under the Merchant Shipping Ordinance if they refused to obey, Chung said. The maximum penalty is a fine of HK$10,000 and six months' jail.
Passengers would bear no legal liability, Chung said. "Under the current laws, we can't penalise passengers, but the coxswains have the responsibility to ensure the safety of the boat and the passengers. These are very reasonable requirements."
Warren Li Kin-pong, a senior marine officer, said 110 inspectors would be checking boats on New Year's Eve, 30 more than the last fireworks display on National Day. It would deploy 25 vessels, six more than on October 1.
The police would also deploy 17 vessels to maintain sea traffic and carry out an anti-speeding operation both inside and outside the harbour, marine superintendent Joseph Li said.
Hermine Kay, of boat rental firm Catamaran Club, believed parents would make their children wear lifejackets anyway, but on the list requirement she said: "We will prepare a list, but if the passengers give fake names or only give their surnames to us, there's nothing we can do."