BoatUS Reports

News From The World Of American Boating

Edited by Ryck Lydecker

"Sea Visa" Leaves Confusion In Wake

Recreational fishing trips into Mexico from California have declined 50 percent since the need for controversial "sea visas" went into effect at the beginning of this year. That's according to the Sportfishing Association of California, which says the inequity, added expense, and confusion over who exactly needs a sea visa have led to many canceled trips.

Foreign boaters now need the costly visas to travel within 24 miles of Mexico's mainland. Previously, boaters entering those waters from the U.S. and returning without visiting port needed only to provide identification and proof of vessel ownership, if stopped at sea. Those visiting Mexican ports by private boat needed inexpensive visas similar to those used for land travel. But all that changed January 1, 2012, when Mexico began to enforce a new federal law requiring visa cards and passports for all foreigners entering Mexican territory in an effort to tighten the country's own homeland security. Entering by sea suddenly became pricey, especially for U.S. recreational anglers who typically run multiple single-day trips per year. Sea visas currently range from $28 for one- to three-day travel, to $250 for one year, according to published reports. Visas for those visiting Baja, California, by land and staying less than a week cost nothing, but aren't accepted at sea.

Inconsistent enforcement further complicates matters. In one well-publicized case, a Mexican patrol boat turned back a for-hire fishing vessel despite the fact that it had sea visas for all passengers. The incident cost the skipper of Malihini more than $6,000 in fuel and ticket refunds. Word of similar incidents involving recreational boaters has anglers, cruisers, and sailboat racers wondering which rules to follow.

"Most cruisers and sailors are confused," said Tony Olson, a San Diego Vessel Assist captain, "but some boaters I've talked to aren't even aware of the new requirements."

Pressure from the recreational boating community and the U.S. State Department has compelled Mexico's Consul General office in San Diego to meet with various Mexican federal and state agencies to find a clear and fair way to implement their law and to clarify the rules for the boating public. Until Mexico irons things out, very few boaters are venturing south of the border and, as of this writing, sea visas are only available at a handful of for-hire fishing landings in the San Diego area.

In the meantime, boaters should keep in mind that Mexico is a sovereign nation, says David Kennedy of BoatUS Government Affairs. "Ultimately it's a foreign-policy matter between Mexico and the United States," Kennedy said. "We've been in communication with the U.S. State Department's Mexico Desk voicing our concerns about what this may mean for recreational boaters. We're urging the State Department to help clarify for American boaters what's actually required and how to comply."

Is Lake Michigan Wreck Explorer's Ship? C'est Possible

Steve Libert was 13 when he first heard about the explorer René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, from his history teacher, but the story stuck with him, especially the bit about La Salle's ship the Griffin. Finished in 1679, the Griffin (or Le Griffon, si vous preferez) was one of the first European ships built in the New World. In September of that year, La Salle left the ship to explore by canoe, a journey that would eventually lead him to the Mississippi River and to claim the surrounding land for France. After riding out a storm near Mackinac Island, the Griffin sailed for the Niagara River, never to be seen again. Libert, now 58, remembers the teacher ending the tale of the wreck by saying, "Maybe one day someone in this room will find it."

Photo of Steve LibertSteve Libert believes he has found the Griffin.

And maybe someone did. Libert, who lives in Virginia but summers in Charlevoix, Michigan, believes he's found the wreck of the Griffin after decades of searching. His quest gathered interest as he spent summers diving from his 18-foot Achilles inflatable, relying on historical documents to focus the search. While he admits that more work must be done to determine whether what he’s found is the historic wreck, signs so far are promising.

"Scientists call it a mass," he says. "I call it a ship. It's old enough to be the Griffin, and there isn't any other ship this age." Carbon dating, bottom profiling, and side-scanning at the Lake Michigan site (fearing treasure hunters, Libert is cautious about identifying the location) have all come back, if not conclusive, then at least hopeful; nothing has ruled out his wreck as the lost ship. The most recent survey, by a Michigan-based Center for Maritime and Underwater Resource Management, found enough evidence to warrant excavating the wreck, a process Libert hopes will begin later this year.

Libert and his partners at Great Lakes Exploration Group LLC spent years in courtroom battles with the State of Michigan over his find, but it's a third party, France, that would really own the wreck if it proves to be the Griffin. Libert hopes the wreck will be preserved in the Great Lakes area, a plan he says would suit the French government. "I think most boaters everywhere have looked out into the waters, into the fog, into the night, and seen apparitions and ghost ships," Libert says.

Got Boat, Will Travel?

You can do fellow boaters, the boating industry, and the boating environment a big favor if you take a newbie boating. That was the top conclusion of a two-day "boating growth summit" organized by the National Marine Manufacturers Association that brought 150 boating "stakeholders" together in Chicago. Participants from across the U.S. and Canada represented not just the boat, equipment, and accessory manufacturers, but government agencies, safety organizations, youth programs, and consumer groups such as BoatUS.

Photo of children in lifejackets aboard a boat

"The summit proved to be a real eye opener for everyone there," said BoatUS President Margaret Podlich. "Looking at the situation from the boating consumer's point of view, as we do, if we want our kids and grandkids to have the same kind of opportunities to enjoy the water that we've had, it's important to bring new people into our favorite activity." Podlich noted that boaters and anglers pump about $650 million a year into the programs that benefit us every day, through federal gasoline taxes and excise taxes on fishing tackle. To that, add millions more that boaters contribute through boat registration fees, and sales and use taxes in many states, and it becomes apparent how significant boaters’ contributions are to healthy ecosystems and boating programs.

"If boating participation declines — and that’s where it’s headed, as we learned at the summit — then we stand to lose boating infrastructure, safety education, and on-water law enforcement, as well as numerous fishery- and habitat-improvement programs that boaters pay for," Podlich noted.

One way to turn that tide emerged as the second most important action from the summit: Take a friend boating. In other words, currently active boaters should invite non-boating friends, neighbors, and family members out for a day on the water. If they catch the boating bug, BoatUS has a wealth of information available online and informative, free publications for the asking at

So, next time you introduce a non-boating friend to the joys of the boating lifestyle, be sure and take their photo aboard and send it in to us. We'll use the best ones in BoatUS Magazine.

Satellites Reveal Turtle Travels

Nesting sea turtles have long been a subject of scientific study and conservation efforts, but new tracking methods are giving researchers insight into what the creatures do after they leave the beach, to spend the rest of their lives at sea.

Research ecologist Kristen Hart, of the U.S. Geological Survey, is among the scientists using satellite tags and data sharing as a window into the watery world where sea turtles spend most of their time. She tracked the movements of 10 loggerhead turtles from three beach nesting grounds in the Gulf of Mexico, and found that regardless of where they nested, the turtles converged on one of two ocean-foraging areas, one off the coast of Mexico and another off the coast of southwest Florida. For example, of four turtles tagged at Florida's St. Joseph Peninsula near Panama City, two trekked more than 500 miles toward Mexico, while two journeyed half that distance to forage off the coast of southwest Florida. Individual female turtles seem to return to the same foraging spots year after year, and other studies have found similar hot spots near Brazil and in the Mediterranean.

Photo of a sea turtleLand of their birth — newborn turtles break out of their shells, and head for the sea. Years later, they return to the same beach to lay their eggs.

"That's what we're starting to see, the repeat use of foraging areas," Hart says, citing the Brazilian study, which followed loggerhead turtles for more than three years. "It's surprising how closely the females return to almost the same site." While nesting populations are valuable for study, Hart says they form an incomplete picture of the animals' life cycle, limited to pregnant females at egg-laying time. Males are more difficult to find, requiring open-ocean tag and release (Hart calls it "turtle-jumping").

Foraging grounds like the ones in the Gulf of Mexico remain a bit of a mystery, at least until scientists get a chance to check them out in person. Researchers know the turtles go there, but not why, and maps and charts give only a limited view. They may be gathering places for loggerhead prey. The turtles survive mainly on a diet of jellyfish, crabs, and shellfish.

Photo of a sea turtle rescue

"Maybe it's just the perfect combination of currents and hiding spots and males," Hart says. "Maybe it's just a perfect vacation spot. I don't know what it would be like for us — a buffet of your favorite foods, and all your best friends — like a wedding?"

For decades, scientists have been using non-electronic tags to track turtles, before small satellite and GPS transmitters were an option, and finding tagged turtles at foraging grounds would reveal another piece of the migration puzzle. Hart thinks they may also be the key to studying male and sub-adult turtles.

"These spots might actually be where we should go to look for males," she says, laughing. "If I were a big lazy male, and I had a female who was coming back to breed every other year, I’d just hang out at the foraging area. Why would he have to leave?"

Torpedoed Tanker No Environmental Time Bomb

A fully loaded 440-foot oil tanker torpedoed and sunk during World War II by a Japanese submarine off the California coast is now likely empty, according to a recently completed U.S. Coast Guard investigation. The S.S. Montebello was torpedoed six miles offshore between Los Angeles and Santa Cruz on December 23, 1941, with more than 3 million gallons of fuel oil in her tanks. The crew escaped but Montebello sank in 900 feet of water. The sinking was largely forgotten until 1996 when a small research submarine found the wreck lying perfectly upright with its tanks appearing to be intact.

Illustration of oil tanker being torpedoed during World War II by a Japanese submarine

Authorities feared advancing corrosion might someday breach the ship's tanks and release the oil — about one-third that carried by the Exxon Valdez. But an October 2011 inspection using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) indicated Montebello's tanks were empty. NOAA scientists theorize that the oil oozed out slowly over the years and may have been so widely dispersed that it went unnoticed by boaters and beachgoers.

More Transient Docks Coming In 10 States

An innovative federal grant program that pays for facilities to serve transient boaters moved into its second decade with the awarding of $7.5 million for 11 major infrastructure projects in 10 states. On January 25, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the latest round of funding — which boaters pay for through federal excise taxes — bringing the total to $128.5 million since the Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) program went into effect in 2002.

Photo of boat dock in Slidell, LouisianaSlidell, Louisiana, received one of 11 BIG grants.

The funds go to construct new docks, dinghy landings, and mooring fields, plus water, electric, and sewage utilities. Fund awards can also be used to renovate existing facilities as long as they serve transient recreational boats (defined as staying 10 days or less) that are 26 feet or larger. Grantees may also use funds to produce and distribute information and educational materials about the program and recreational boating as well as smaller construction projects, usually under $100,000. This year the service released another $2.6 million for projects in this category in 26 states.

In announcing the 2012 grants, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said, "Recreational boaters and anglers contribute to our nation's thriving outdoor recreation economy and play an important role in conservation of our rivers, watersheds, and oceans. These competitive grants will help provide quality opportunities and access to America's great outdoors for our nation's boaters and anglers, while creating jobs by funding major construction projects to build docks, boat slips, and facilities."

BoatUS successfully steered the BIG program through Congress in the late 1990s in order to provide some benefits for larger, non-trailerable boats that were paying federal gasoline taxes but getting little in return.

Ocean Jewel Quickly Tarnishing

Jules Verne named Captain Nemo's futuristic submarine Nautilus, after an odd yet beautiful ocean creature that's been swimming in the sea for half a billion years. But now the chambered nautilus may be headed for the rocks, according to marine biologists. Immortalized by poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, this large mollusk of the South Seas is being fished out, according to Peter D. Ward, a University of Washington biologist.

Increasingly popular in the worldwide jewelry trade for its delicate shell with near-perfect spirals when cut in cross-section, Ward says the two species of nautilus are being fished out. "A horrendous slaughter is going on out there," he said, following a census of the marine creature in the waters of the Philippines.

Artisanal fishermen from Indonesia, Fiji, the Philippines, and elsewhere in the South Pacific catch the nautiluses on the slopes of coral reefs that descend into deep waters, using baited traps on long lines. The animals can travel to depths as much as 2,000 feet. Census findings could lead to curbing international trade in the chambered nautilus before, to quote a stanza from Holmes, "wrecked is this ship of pearl."

USS Monitor At 150

In keeping with the Civil War 150th anniversary commemorations underway, NOAA launched a website devoted to the USS Monitor, launched and sunk in 1862. The site takes viewers from the iconic warship's construction and launching, through its sinking only 11 months later, to discovery of the wreck in 1974, and the recent expedition to protect it. The USS Monitor lies in 230 feet of water 16 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras and is best known for its battle with the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia off Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862. Their battle marked the first time iron ships clashed in naval warfare and signaled the end of the era of wooden warships.

Photo of the remnants from the USS MonitorSee remnants from the USS Monitor at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

Swedish-born engineer and inventor of the screw propeller, John Ericsson designed the Union ironclad, revolutionizing naval warfare with its low profile, iron-armored deck, rotating gun turret, and other innovations. Following discovery of the wreck, Congress created the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary in 1975 to protect it from potential salvage. It became the first of 13 such sanctuaries designated for various purposes on all three coasts and the Great Lakes.

A Unique Houseboat Designed For Urban Living

The best places to live in some European cities are on waterways, and now MetroShips is bringing that concept to the U.S. with their combination of floating New York loft-style condo and boutique hotel room. Dock space or moorings are available at over 70 urban and vacation locations. See more of this story at  

— Published: June/July 2012

Hurricane History

Most boaters would prefer to forget past hurricanes, particularly the bad ones that made U.S. landfall. But, if you're curious about which storm went where, and how hard it blew, NOAA now has a hurricane history web page. You can search by place name, storm name, or year, or latitude and longitude coordinates. With the search results, users can generate maps showing the track of a particular storm or storms, accompanied by a table of related information. The site contains global hurricane data from as far back as 1842 ( For here-and-now information on how to prepare your boat for hurricanes, go to

Photo of a boat on the ocean


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