Waterways Ireland has fired a warning shot across the bow of boat owners who breach the Lough Erne Bye-laws.

There are no double yellow lines on the lake but there are parking restrictions -- and even a warden to police them and keep the traffic flowing.

In the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland two local boat owners have appeared at Fermanagh Court charged with mooring their cruisers at a public jetty for longer than the permitted 48 hours.

The test case was brought by Waterways Ireland, the inter-governmental organisation responsible for managing the Erne for recreational purposes.

Boat owners Laurence Connor, of Rossdoney, Bellanaleck, and Barry Mohan, of Featherbed Glade, Enniskillen, were accused of tying their cruisers up at the Round O in Enniskillen for more than two days.

Mr. Simon Reid, the barrister instructed by Waterways Ireland, told the court that both men had admitted the offence by formal letters from their respective solicitors.

He explained that these were Connor and Mohan's first offences under the bye-laws and invited District Judge Austin Kennedy to deal with them by way of a caution.

"They have undertaken to abide by the bye-laws in future," stated Mr. Reid.

He then formally withdrew the summonses against Connor and Mohan, explaining that Waterways Ireland "has only brought the prosecutions with reluctance, but non-compliance (with the bye-laws) has become prevalent of late".

Speaking afterwards, Dawn Livingstone, head of Waterways Ireland's property and legal section, said the case was brought to prove a point.

"There would have been a perception that we had no powers," said Mrs. Livingstone. "That there was nothing we could do about it." Those powers were delegated to it by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, which owns Lough Erne.

She said that having made the point Waterways Ireland did not intend to go down the path of "wholesale prosecutions" but wanted to encourage boat owners to adhere to the bye-laws. She stressed that the vast majority abide by the rules.

Mrs. Livingstone said it had been forced to take action because of a "steady stream of complaints" over the past four or five years from people unable to find mooring spaces around Enniskillen. There are about 100 berths at public jetties in the town, provided by Waterways Ireland so that people travelling by boat can pull in and visit Enniskillen's shops, pubs, restaurants and other amenities.

"Everyone wants to come to Enniskillen," explained Mrs. Livingstone. "It's good for business in the town. You can stay for two days and then have to move off and not return within four hours." Waterways Ireland monitors boat traffic and estimates that the 100 berths currently available are sufficient to meet demand. The problem is that at peak summer times up to 60 of those spaces can be occupied by locally owned boats, some of them tied up there for the entire season. Mooring at a public jetty is free but mooring at a private jetty or marina can typically cost �650 a year. Public jetties are also in prime locations within easy access of the town. The temptation has been for local boat owners to use them as private moorings.

"We want to send out a clear message to boat owners to get a private mooring," said Mrs. Livingstone.

Waterways Ireland's Lough Erne Warden can't issue parking tickets but he can serve notices on people who leave their boat at a public jetty for longer than 48 hours. As the test case proves, people who ignore the notices can be taken to court and prosecuted.

The maximum fine is currently �50 but Waterways Ireland is working to have that increased and the bye-law changed so that instead of having to move away from a jetty for four hours before returning, a boat will have to move a distance of three kilometres.

Mrs. Livingstone said the road to court was a long one.

Initially letters were sent to the owners of boats that had been moored at a public jetty for more than 48 hours, advising them that they were in breach of the bye-laws. A condition of the bye-laws is that boats with engines of more than 10hp have display a registration number. This enables the warden to identify the owner. There are around 5,000 boats registered on Lough Erne.

If the initial letter brought no response a second warning letter was sent. Waterways Ireland then either visited or telephoned the boat owner. Prosecution was the final stage of the process.

Mrs. Livingstone said the court case had proved the point. "We do have powers. We can successfully bring a prosecution," she warned.