New regulations could make Erne safer but those that use it for sport may have to pay for the privilege.

New rules and regulations designed to make Lough Erne safer and less chaotic are in the pipeline.

They are likely to affect everyone who goes out on the lake, from the angler and yachtsman to the power boat owner and jet skier.

Some fear that the changes will be accompanied by "water charges" and that those that use the Erne for sport and recreation will have to pay for the privilege.

Waterways Ireland, the inter-governmental organisation responsible for boating on navigable lakes, rivers and canals throughout Ireland has drafted an update to the existing bye-laws. The new rules will apply to the Erne and a number of other waterways.

The changes are designed to address the increased use of the lakes by people involving in a wide range of different activities and any conflicts of interest that might lead to.

A spokesman explained: "It is hoped the introduction of new bye-laws will lead to a more safe and orderly use of the waterways and its facilities as a shared resource." The current Lough Erne Bye-laws were introduced in 1978 and amended in 1986 to "provide for the licensing and registration of vessels using Lough Erne, require the provision of safety equipment in such vessels and regulate the use of the navigation".

They are a basic Highway Code for the lake, covering speed limits, overtaking, giving way, parking or mooring, and drinking and driving boats.

But unlike the rules of the road, the Lough Erne Bye-laws do not require someone to pass a driving test, pay a vehicle tax or have insurance to cover the cost of any accident.

In the Lake District in England, the Windermere Navigation and Registration Bye-laws of 2008 do not require someone to pass a test of competence before going out in a boat nor do they require insurance but there is a tax of sorts in the form of an annual registration fee. This applies to all boats with an engine, even a rowing boat with a small outboard, and is designed to be self-financing, with the fee set at a level that covers the cost of operating the registration scheme.

On the Erne young children can drive a speed boat but the Windermere bye-laws prohibit anyone under the age of 16 from driving a boat with an engine of more that four horse power. They also prohibit careless, dangerous and drunken driving and require accidents to be reported to the authorities. In addition they require all boats, including rowing boats and yachts, to carry navigation lights.

The Windermere bye-laws also set down rules for activities like waterskiing, requiring two people over the age of 16 to be in the towing boat, one to steer and the other to keep an eye on the skier.

The cost of registering a boat on Windermere is £10 for the first year and £5 per year thereafter.

Waterways Ireland is due to publish a set of draft bye-laws this year. However, it has run into a legal problem over the introduction of laws that will apply on both sides of the Border.

A spokesman for Waterways Ireland explained: "The issue is under examination by legal representatives and Waterways Ireland awaits the outcome of this process before proceeding with the planned public consultation programme." It won't say how closely the proposed new bye-laws, which will apply not only to the Erne but several other navigable waterways across Ireland, might mirror the Windermere bye-laws or the Highway Code and the rules of the road.

A spokesman said it would "not be appropriate" for a Waterways Ireland representative to talk about the content of the proposed bye-laws prior to the public consultation programme.

The consultation will take place in two phases. Initially a draft of the proposed bye-laws will be sent to groups and organisations representing the interests of people who use the lake, such as angling clubs, the Lough Erne Yacht Club and hire cruiser operators, as well as the relevant government departments. They will also be sent a questionnaire asking for their views.

Following that initial 12-week consultation the responses will be considered and the bye-laws amended as deemed appropriate. The revised version will then be discussed at a series of public meetings throughout Ireland.

A copy of the proposed bye-laws will be available for perusal at the public meetings and made available for download from Waterways Ireland's website or by post upon request.

The spokesman stated that: "All comments made at the public meetings will be noted and considered to ensure a balanced view is taken and reflected in the revised bye-laws."