Practical tests are to be introduced for pleasure craft operators, after decades of licences being given to people who may never have set foot on a boat. At present, anyone who passes a written, multiple-choice exam and an oral test can be given a licence to drive speedboats or pleasure craft up to a maximum of either 20 metres or 13.7 metres. But the Marine Department has come under increasing pressure to also introduce a practical test for the larger boats. Marine police have expressed concern that many pleasure craft and speedboat drivers don't have enough knowledge or experience before taking to the water. 'Sometimes, when we want to speak to people on a vessel, rather than ask them to pull up alongside us, we'll send a smaller boat to go to them because we've found many can't handle their craft well enough to safely manoeuvre it alongside our police boat,' one officer said. But the Marine Department noted that none of the pleasure craft involved in accidents in the past two years were driven by recently licensed or inexperienced users. '[Our] casualty statistics involving pleasure vessels for the past two years revealed that poor practical boat-handling techniques were not a factor in the cause of the accidents,' a spokeswoman said. 'On the contrary, failure to observe the collision-prevention regulation was identified as the major cause of pleasure vessel accidents.' Practical exams for people wanting to operate a boat of up to 20 metres could be introduced as early as the end of the year once amendments to the Merchant Shipping Ordinance are tabled in the Legislative Council next month. However, exams to operate boats of up to 13.7 metres would continue to be written and oral. So far this year, 581 people have been granted licences after written and oral tests. Last year, 1,257 licences were granted, compared with 1,641 in 2004. Recent fatalities 2006 1. Aug 18: Swimmer killed by speedboat off Clear Water Bay 2. April 8: Diver Bjorn Lohse dies in Lobster Bay, near Sai Kung. Police investigating if he was hit by speeding dinghy 3. March 12: Swimmer Ng Ko-kai killed by a speedboat in Sha Tau Kok 2005 4. June 12: Couple killed when their sampan is hit by a speedboat off Tui Min Hoi in Sai Kung 2002 5. July 28: Tam Ching-tung, four, and Lam Wing-lun, 31, die when a speedboat hits their sampan off Sha Lo Wan, Tung Chung.