Small Boats a National Threat?

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Senior Member
Oct 6, 2007

USAToday reports (you can read the article on my website if you wish) that the Homeland Security Secretary has asked the Coast Guard to develop new requirements for the tracking of small boats. It seems that the Feds are now concerned about small boats carrying lethal quantities of explosives etc. that could be detonated similar to what happened to he Cole in 2000. Funny, 7 years later, the Feds just now get concerned. I wonder who the hell is in charge?

This month the Coast Guard is to provide Chertoff a plan to oversee recreational boats. "We need to know more about who's out there." said Dana Goward, the director of the Coast Guards Maritime Domain Awareness program.

Here we go again. The Feds have no clue who walks across the Mexican border and hasn't made a decent attempt to find out, but you can bet your last dollar they will try to track us boaters. Easy targets.

The Coast Guard wants to require all of us boaters to carry identification so they can build a database of boaters that operate in restricted waters. My name is already on my trawler's documentation papers, and my name is on my dingy registration. I live within 5 miles of a Trident submarine base. I would think I'd already be on that list?

But I bet it will not stop there. Vessels over 100 feet are already required to carry on board transponders to allow them to be tracked. Its my guess that we'll see an attempt to do that with all boats. What a logistical nightmare that would be. And what will we do with the transient boaters that traverse the east coast that must navigate through military bases.

Let's just set up a Federal program for passing through security zones like they do in Customs. Give me a break!!!

We'd better*watch this one closely

I'm not gonna go into the politics of this but this all went down in general aviation about 20 years ago. You are required to have a transponder on any aircraft if you operate in or near certain is as simple as that. I would think an AIS type transponder would be relatively cheap. I am not saying lets all roll over and let them do this, but it is possible without too much trouble or expense to us. The biggest difference between planes and boats in something like this is that planes operate in 3D space where airspace is not only divided up laterally, bue also vertically. And going around certain airspace at a decent speed is not as bothersome as it maybe for boats going 8 knots.
I will second what John says. Whether or not the USCG, DOHS. C&I, ATF, you name it, should be able to track a specific boat is a debate unto itself.

But the technology to do so is pretty simple. As John says, transponders have been used, and in many cases required, in aircraft for 30 years, actually. In fact the concept and the basic technology go back to WWII when it was called "IFF" which stood for Identification Friend or Foe. In fact, I think they still call it that.

There are, however, some significant differences between what's used in aircraft and what would work in a boat. In a plane, the transponder is activated by being struck by a radar signal. At that point, the transponder transmits a signal that is given unique properties by the four digit number dialed into the instrument by the pilot. The transponder signal appears on the radar display with characteristics determined by the number dialed into the transponder. The controllers, using their ATC computers, can have the name of the airline, the flight number, the type of aircraft, the plane's speed, etc. "attached" to the transponder signal and displayed on the screen along with the "blip."

This works real well in aircraft because line of sight distances are much greater when you're transmitting to and from something in the air as opposed to something on the water. In our area (PNW) it would be very hard to track a boat using this technology because the radar or transponder (or both) signal would be constantly interupted when the boat went behind an island or whatever.

My understanding is that the current AIS system is VHF based. That's fine for getting info to or from the container ship headed down the channel in front of you. But I'm not sure how well it would work for tracking boats from base stations, particularly in areas like here with lots of tall, signal-blocking islands. If the marine transponder system used satelites for transmission and reception this would largely solve the limited signal coverage question.

A satelite-based system could get pricey for the boater, but a VHF-based system could be very reasonably priced I would imagine, especially if it was required on every boat.

The political arguments, pro and con, about introducing this kind of vessel monitoring will undoubtedly be pretty lively however......

-- Edited by Marin at 18:49, 2007-11-07

-- Edited by Marin at 20:01, 2007-11-07
Besides, a terrorist could just turn off a transponder or fake the signal. Simple.
About as effective as gun laws keeping guns away from crooks.

It is all a "dog & pony show" to make stupid people "feel" safe.

Or how about showing ID three times at the airport? Do you think suicide terrorists care if you know their name just before they die? How exactly does showing your ID to many airport employees keep us safe? What about fake ID?
If you want a preview of the next fun we're likely to deal with in the boating world, here's what's happening in the general aviation world (snipped from the AOPA website): (CBP = Customs and Border Protection):

CBP wants to require pilots to submit arrival/departure notification and passenger lists (manifest) over the Internet before leaving or returning to the United States. In addition, CBP would mandate the use of its electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS)similar to what's already used by charter companiesto screen general aviation passengers against terrorist watch lists. Under CBP's proposal, you'd log onto a Web site at least one hour before departing to fly across the U.S. border, provide information about you, your aircraft and your passengers', and then get an approval to fly.

If it's light aircraft today, you've gotta believe it'll be recreational boats tomorrow.

A few of the issues with this:
- you have to provide a passenger list and get approval before being allowed to leave the U.S.
- you have to do the same before being allowed to travel back to the U.S.
- you have to return from a location with internet access.* In the PNW, for example, if you're camping in the Gulf Islands, you can't head directly for a U.S. port of entry (unless you have satellite internet access).* You would have to stop somewhere with web access.* (The CBP plan as written has no way to call in your list - it's internet only).

And don't get me started about needing government permission to leave the country...
Keith wrote:

Besides, a terrorist could just turn off a transponder or fake the signal. Simple.

If it is required by law in certain waters and someone is not complying, then the water police go after them and cite them.* Obviously, if it is a terroist and they turn off their transponder it does not make them invisible.* You could still get a skin paint(primary radar return)*and they would be tracked and treated with suspiscion and intercepted if need be.
The way I see it is the Governement has the answers to all of our problems, just ask them. The only thing they do better than the private sector is run a military....but oh yeah, thats because the private sector is not allowed too.

I was stopped by the Coast Guard a few weeks back while a Trident sub passed. No problem as they throw one hell of a wake.

The coasties now swarm all over stopping boats when a sub is underway. They acted so tough with their 50 caliber's trained on me. Of course, the weapons were NOT provided with ammo . I know as I have fired many rounds myself while with Uncle Sam's Army.

Sure about that .50? Here's a pic I took while on one earlier in the year. Fully armed!


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Good eye. I can assure you, having worked directly with the Coast Guard for the last ten years, that they have ammunition for every gun on board. I don't believe that is a fifty cal, but it will put holes in your boat. Up til recently, the old M60, 7.62mm was the deck gun of choice on their smallboats. They also have M16's and nines. At some point I'm sure you will find fifty caliber. Maybe the 87' cutters and above.

This is an 87 out of Bellingham, Wa. doing fire training.

-- Edited by Carey at 19:17, 2007-11-09
I would agree with Carey--- I don't think the gun in the photo is a .50 cal. It's way too small for one thing (see attached photo of a USCG .50 cal). The gun does not appear to be an M60 either--- the shape is wrong, at least for the Vietnam-era version--- but the ammo looks not unlike .308 (7.62) although I don't know if this caliber is still used by the US military.


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I wasn't saying it was a .50, just showing that it was loaded and ready to use.
*** The replacement for the M60 is the M240B, and is still using the same 7.62/308 round. It's supposed to be much more reliable. I had never known the M60 not to be reliable, but...

Sorry, I misinterpretted what you had written.
I took a look today at the small USCG boats (like an orange rib on steroids). They use our dock. The guns bow and stern are definitely loaded but not .50 cal. Maybe next weekend I can ask one of the guys what size it is.

-- Edited by Gene at 22:49, 2007-11-10
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