I Boat and I Vote

By Tom Neale, 8/9/2007


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

Restricted bridge a few yards from newer high rise

You and I, yet again, are on the verge of being slammed by ill conceived governmental regulation. If I were to be passing laws on mountain climbing I’d probably do two things well: make a mess of things and make an idiot of myself. That’s because I don’t know anything about it. But it seems to be OK for any uninformed congressman or judge or bureaucrat to take pot shots at boaters and make a mockery of the concept of sanity.

And the good news is that this is an equal opportunity fiasco. You, in your pocket cruiser, trawler, sailboat, center console, go fast boat, express cruiser—or whatever—are in danger of having your boat inspected, registered, permitted, regulated, and possibly mutilated to insure that it meets standards written for huge commercial ocean going ships capable of discharging tens of thousands of gallons of ballast water and thereby helping to spread undesirable invasive species from one region to another. None of us want that, but we aren’t the problem. This is a well known fact. Pleasure boats have been exempted from the law for 34 years. Even the EPA opposed this idiocy. If you’re a member of BoatUS you got an email explaining the problem. It’s perhaps worded a bit more diplomatically than what you’re reading here—but I’m like you—I’m tired of constantly getting targeted by incompetents, well meaning or not. (In case you didn’t get that email, you can see a copy of it below in Tom’s Tips.)

Standing Up For Boating

1. Don’t make unrealistic assumptions.

2. Never assume that a government agency related to boating is staffed by people who are familiar with boating. Sometimes staffing is excellent, but sometimes they don’t have a clue. Watch what’s going on in your community, go to hearings, and courteously try to help when needed.

Click Here for More Tips

But this isn’t the only problem area. As you may know, there were some within the Department of Homeland Security who were advancing the idea that creating a single vast registration system for all boaters would enhance national security. Forget that we already have driver’s licenses, passports, local registrations etc. Forget that if I’m a bad guy I probably wouldn’t go to the trouble to register with Homeland Security. Forget that it would cost millions of dollars and consume assets that could be used to actually effectively combat the terrorist threat. It was just another way for bureaucrats to spend money so they could pretend like they were doing their jobs (and creating more bureaucratic jobs) utilizing the boater as the target. Some tied the idea to boater education, something that most of us agree we need badly, but that is a distinctly separate issue and it can come within the existing framework of local and state laws. And importantly, the Homeland Security folks were overlooking an important asset already in place and relatively free. You and me.

The America’s Waterway Watch program (see http://www.americaswaterwaywatch.org/ ) enlists boaters to watch for possible terrorist activity and report same by calling the National Response Center at 877-24WATCH or 911 if immediate life threatening circumstances are seen. Sure, this may sound a bit overly reactionary, but it’s not. The possibility of small boats being used for terrorist purposes is real and has already been demonstrated as in, for example, the tragedy of the USS Cole. And you and I, as a part of being on the water and exercising prudent seamanship, should be on watch and observant anyway. And we’re often in places to see things that others on land would not. We should take this very seriously. Like it or not, it’s unfortunately a reflection of the world we live in.

Do you think your boat carries ballast water like this one

And then there are the anti-anchoring regulations in Florida. Some localities have been actually thumbing their noses at not only Federal law but Florida law regulating those who would prohibit anchoring in their area. It’s true that this issue, like most, is not as simple as it seems on the surface. For example, some local residents (including boaters) have reason to be angry when a boater parks a non-navigable derelict and lets it rot and sink. But people who do this are in the tiny minority of boaters—there’s question as to whether they’re boaters at all. And you don’t legislate against the group because there are a few in it of whose practices you disapprove.

Another problem has to do with bridges. We’re seeing more and more curtailment of navigation along the east coast ICW when local authorities try to add more restrictions on the times that bridges can open. Often this is far more than an inconvenience for boaters who must have an opening to pass through. Quite often it creates a safety issue. For example, many of the places where the bridges won’t open have narrow channels, a lot of current and obstructions on the side. Add to that wind and congestion as boats pile up waiting for an opening and you get damage and injury. And often when bridge opening restrictions occur they can delay the trip resulting in the boat not being able to make safe harbor before a storm or nightfall. Some areas have restricted bridge after restricted bridge. This means that if your boat can’t travel fast enough to make the first, it’s going to miss the opening of the next and the next and a half hour’s run could end up taking three times that long. The justification for all this is, of course, that people don’t want to be delayed in cars. None of us like to stop in a car and wait for a bridge. But a car can do just that—stop on the highway. The road on which it sits doesn’t move as does the water in which a boat sits and the wind doesn’t blow it into other cars or obstructions as can be the case when boats try to sit. And nightfall or bad weather is far less likely to create a safety issue for those in the cars. But the clincher is the number of restricted opening bridges that are within a mile or so of new fixed bridges. Vehicular traffic could simply go over the fixed bridges, but pork barrel politics keeps the obstructing restricted opening bridges in place and operating. We’re talking about navigable waterway here, and the federal government has oversight over this. You can report problems to the following along the east coast where the problem is most severe, depending upon where the bridge is located:

Mr. Barry Dragon, Chief of Bridge Branch
Commander 7 th Coast Guard District (DPB)
909 SE 1 st Ave, Room 432
Miami FL 33131
Barry Dragon, 305 415 6743

Fifth District Bridge Branch
Waverly Gregory, Chief, Bridge Branch
431 Crawford Street
Portsmouth, Virginia 23704
757 398 6222

First District Bridge Administrator:
Mr. Gary Kassof
Battery Park Building
1 South Street
New York , NY 10004
Tel: (212) 668-7021

Your boat shouldn't be regulated like this one

But it isn’t always a bleak picture. For example, a few years back a new policy went into effect for boats returning from, say, the Bahamas. Everyone on the boat had to report in person to a US Customs and Border Patrol office to show that they were back and that they weren’t terrorists. Before this, in South Florida, a telephone call and passport number or other required information would do. But the knee jerk to the terrorist threat was to make boaters sometimes have to rent a car and spend an entire day traveling to a designated office to report in. I suppose the theory was that the terrorist would come on down and report in too, and be conveniently nabbed. Come on guys. But lately in areas of South Florida a policy called the “Local Boater’s Option” has been instated. It makes returning to the states much easier and was in part the result of local voter political activity coupled with efforts of sensible and helpful officials in the Department of Homeland Security. Check https://www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boats-private-flyers/pleasure-boat-locations/fl . Click “ South Florida” for the CBP offices where you can register for the Local Boaters Option Pilot Program.

And then, fortunately, there is BoatUS. Mel and I have been members of BoatUS for many, many years because we daily see the need to have a strong organization supporting boaters. BoatUS weighed in heavily and effectively on the national boater registration issue, and it is now in the permitting issue mentioned at the beginning. It has also been at the forefront on many other issues. But, in the end, it all comes back to you and me.

Never forget: You boat and you vote. You and I take the time to go to the polls. We should remind our political representatives of that, every chance we get.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale