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Should security have limits?

The other night, Jay Leno reportedly quipped that America’s waterways will now boast “millions of fisherman with rifles.”  He was, of course, mocking the new Small Vessel Security Strategy announced by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at NMMA’s annual American Boating Congress Legislative Conference.

But that announcement isn’t a joke. It’s serious business and should be viewed that way. Although as time passes the sting of 9/11 may dull, we must never forget the threat to indiscriminately kill as many Americans as possible is as real now as it was that fateful morning. Given the chance, another attack will happen. Enter the Small Vessel Security Strategy which is actually a layered approach to port security that includes the America’s Waterways Watch (AWW). 

AWW, conceived 3 years ago, asks the nation’s boaters to watch and report suspicious activities on the water. Such information goes into a database to spot trends. Good, so far. But the strategy also includes “improved tracking of small vessels.” Now, it’s that broad statement that got me thinking about whether there can be too much security i.e. actions in the name of security that also tread on freedoms and life styles? It can happen.

For example, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently announced stringent new requirements (advance notification, passports, driver licenses, birth certificates and more) for anglers on Lake Erie who cross into Canadian waters for a day’s fishing outing. Boaters routinely fish the deeper cooler Canadian waters in the Lake during the summer. The new policy called for advance notice, personal information and background checks of charter boat customers. It would have literally put western Ohio’s $1 billion a year charter industry out of business. Appropriately, uproar broke out. CBP officials ultimately responded by scuttling plans for advance notice and background checks.

Unlike the CBP, in the Small Vessel Security Strategy the Coast Guard has been out in front in crafting its program. Stakeholder summit meetings have been held in several areas of the country to develop the program and obtain boater input. I attended one at the Cleveland Boat Show last winter. It was any eye-opener for me as speakers showed us the threats we face from the water side and the layered security plans to deter any attack. The threats are real but the Coast Guard’s layered strategy is excellent. And our customers can play an important role if they just keep their eyes open.

I blog about this for two important reasons: First, the AWW is a good plan. We need to make it known to our boating customers, where applicable. I encourage you to get materials you can use from your nearest Coast Guard facility.

Second, as the advocates of boating that we must always be, it’s our responsibility as dealers to attend and be outspoken in local stakeholder meetings. Moreover, we must be prepared to loudly protest any regulations proposed in the name of Homeland Security that would effectively damage boating economically and/or literally remove the freedom and pleasure from pleasure boating. A careful balance between security considerations and our freedoms must always be the objective and, like the case of the CBP, our voices can keep things in balance if we use them.

Should security have its limits? Answer: Yes.


4 comments on “Should security have limits?

  1. Blaze Miskulin

    Asking boaters to report “suspicious” behavior is dangerous. You can see it in other areas where tourists are being detained for taking photos of landmarks, city streets, or other tourist attractions. According to the FBI, “suspicious activities” include the following:

    ” Surveillance: Are you aware of anyone video recording or monitoring activities, taking notes, using cameras, maps, binoculars, etc., near key facilities/events?

    Suspicious Persons: Are you aware of anyone who does not appear to belong in the workplace, neighborhood, business establishment or near a key facility/event?

    “Dry Runs”: Have you observed any behavior that appears to be preparation for a terrorist act, such as mapping out routes, playing out scenarios with other people, monitoring key facilities/events, timing traffic lights or traffic flow, or other suspicious activities?”

    (emphasis mine)

    Boating is a tourism-related activity. Bridges, dams, and locks are not only “key facilities”, they’re also some of the best fishing spots. Is that guy over there fishing for sauger while his brother takes pictures of the apple trees in bloom? Or are they terrorists planning to something up? Is that guy repeatedly trolling the same path in the hopes of catching that huge bass, or is he “making a dry run”? How easy is it for someone to mistake “recording the good fishing holes” with “mapping out routes” for nefarious purposes.

    The average person isn’t trained to know the difference and the result–as has been demonstrated in airports and other public venues for the past several years–is that innocent people doing innocent things are being subjected to unwarranted searches, questioning, and even detainment.

    From the other side, how comfortable do you feel knowing that every other boater out there is watching what you do and looking for “suspicious activities”? That any misinterpretation or prejudice could result in you having to explain yourself to the US Coast Guard or other law enforcement agency?

    I don’t feel comfortable with that at all.

  2. David Sheriff

    Lest anyone new to boating misunderstand Leno’s joke, having a firearm aboard will instantly catapult you from the “layered defense” category to the “imminent threat” category.

    I boat out of Los Angeles harbor. There are so many new security personnel that getting stopped is pretty routine. Remember, they are bored and you are helping them practice, so take it all cheerfully as your contribution to homeland security. As their training progresses they seem to be getting a little less jumpy, but that is only an illusion. If possible, calmly get everyone on board up in the cockpit where you can be easily observed before the patrol boat gets to you. Also, make no quick moves, and announce everything you are going to do ahead of time. If you have to go below to fetch something you will almost certainly be accompanied . Have your papers in order. The friendly officer heading the boarding team is not the only one to keep an eye on. Notice that the backup officers on the patrol boat all have their eyes on you and their hands on their guns. If you unexpectedly open a compartment you will invite a very tense moment.

  3. Captain Bob Armstrong

    Though the events of 9/11 were horrific, in its aftermath, even 6 1/2 years later, people tend to forget two iportant facts: 1, Absolute security is impossible; we can never achieve it and 2) The terrorists that day employed commercial aircraft on scheduled flights, which are perhhaps the most regulated and totally controlled elements of all modes of transporation. Yet they succeeded because no one was paying attention! Unfortunately even with all the “security measures” put in place by the Department of Homeland Sevurity (most of which cost us taxpayers more in dollars and inconvenience than they can posssibly be worth) I have a hinch that we are still not paying attention to the important things. All the measures imposed on the boating pubklic wpon’t do a thing to curb terrorists but they will go a long way toward helping our enemies achieve their objecctives, which is to totally disrupt our comfortable lifestyle. Of course we can’t be complacent and pretend nothing happened. But the more we do to create the illusion of seccurity while actually accomplishing little, the more we help the enemy’s cause.

  4. Mark Wissing

    I toured Europe extensively for 15 years from the late 70s through early 90s and it was not uncommon for uniformed guards with dogs, Uzis and pistols to roam the airports, train stations and spot check cars on the highways. I loved coming back to the USA because we were free of these inconveniences.
    9/11 and our current economic situation have changed this.

    The guards, then as now, were and are a huge deterent especially considering that, with the economy in the dumps, commodity thieves (oil, gas, vegetable oil, copper, etc.) and internal terrorists have increased in number, have become bolder and are very likely to shoot at anyone crossing their paths.
    It is truly unfortunate that we no longer live in our parent’s America, but we all have a job to do watching out for and reporting these malcontents.

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