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Should security have limits?

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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.

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