How Much Liberty Is Too Much?
Edited add: gCaptain has another great post about the testimony at the Bounty hearing. This passage jumps out:
When she wasn’t at the pier – because she didn’t carry passengers for hire – Bounty was in a sort of regulatory no-man’s-land. She was a recreational vessel, a well-crewed yacht, and it was none of big brother’s business how she was maintained.
In the comments section of my previous post, fellow Gentlemen Blaise P suggested that Bounty should have been deemed “unfit to sail” and prevented from putting to sea:
“I don’t know anything about how such things are done, but surely some regulatory body could keep a structurally unsound ship from putting to sea.”
My wife hails from Brooklyn. Her gun politics are about what you’d expect from a New Yorker who listens to NPR, tempered slightly by nearly 20 years of living with me.
Simiarly, my wife’s family tend to see the regulation of various human activities as self-evidently good. When my wife’s brothers (both trained as lawyers) first started coming out wit me on my boats, one of the questions they ask was what kind of training or certification I needed to operate a boat, and as good urban Northeasterners (one liberal, one conservative) they were both shocked by my answer, which was, “None.”
How boats are regulated, how they are not regulated, and especially how that compares to how automobiles are regulated is an interesting way to contour the limits of liberty in this country. Let’s start with private autos in New York State.
Private autos in New York State must be registered. They must carry plates. They must have a liability insurance policy in place, with certain minimum amounts of coverage. Their operators are licensed by the state. There are law governing nearly every aspect of how they are operated; speed, which side of the road, when and where to stop. Open containers of alcohol are prohibited. They must be inspected and certified safe and polluting below a certain threshold by a state-register testing facility each and every year. An auto that does not pass it’s safety and emmisions inspection can be identified by the absense of an inspection sticker on its windshield. Autos are deemed to fall under the protection of the Fourth Amendment.
Now to private boats in NYS.
All boats must carry life vests equivalent to the number of people on boat. Passengers 12 and under must wear a life vest whenever the boat is underway. Any boat with primary or auxiliary machine power (ie, an engine) must be registered with the state and carry numbers on her bow; excepted from this requirement are documented vessels. Operators are not licensed. Operators may consume alcohol but may not be intoxicated. Boats above a certain size (26′ IIRC) must carry signaling equipment and fire extinguishers. There are rules about how boats should behave when they interact, but most private boat operators are not aware of these rules, or at least do not follow them. Boats, not even house boats, are not covered by the Fourth Amendment and may be boarded and search at any time for any reason, or no reason at all. Boats do not have to file any like an aviator’s flight-plan, and in fact there is no agency with whom such a plan might be filed.
Now to Passenger Vessels, which are regulated by the Federal Government.
Operators must be licensed. There are different grades of license which cover different sized vessels (50 ton, 100 ton, 200 ton, etc) different routes (sheltered, partially protect, coastal, etc) and different uses (sailing, towing, etc). Vessels carrying 6 passengers or fewer are not inspected or regulated beyond the operator licensing requirement. Vessels carrying 7 passengers or more are certified fit for duty by the USCG Marine Safety Center before the are put into service and are inspected annually by a USCG safety inspector. Passengers under 12 do not have to wear PFDs, which is why you don’t see kids wearing lifejackets on the Staten Island Ferry.
Now to Inspections vs Surveys
In the maritime world, and inspection is something done by the USCG to determine the fitness for duty (stability, seaworthiness, systems, soundness) and to ensure the various passenger safety considerations (life vests, life rafts, railings, passageway) conform to the regulations. Regular inspections are only every performed on commercial vessels. Private vessels may be inspected, but this is rare, and when it occurs, the primary concern of the inspector will be flares, PFD, and pollution (oil and blackwater being pumped overboard from the bilge).
Survey are done for insurance purposes and are best understood as of a home inspection and appraisal all in one. Surveys establish value and fitness to be insured. Results are not reported to the USCG and their is no mechanism for doing so.
Pictured above is the Light Scooner Margaret Ellen. Notice she carries no numbers on her bow. This because she had no motor. I felt a libertarian smugness about this until a couple of years ago when I applied for my Merchant Mariners Credential.
As noted above, there are different grades of license, depending on the amount of sea service one has, the waters sailed, and the size of the vessel. This is all self-reported, and no doubt some “fudging” takes place.
But not on my application. Between the commercial fishing I did with my father as a kid and all the messing about in boat since my wife and I moved to Montauk, I had plenty of days on the water.
The grade I applied for was a Near-Coastal Masters, requiring 720 days of sea service, with 360 days on the seaward side of the COLREGS demarcation line. But my application was downgraded to an Inland Waterways Masters because the USCG rejected the sea-service time I reported on the Margaret Ellen, and that brought my total number of days just under 720.
Was it because the Margaret Ellen was a hand-built boat? No.
Was it because the Margaret Ellen had no engine? No.
No, the reason the Coast Guard rejected my sea service time on the Margaret Ellen was because she had no registration number, and as such could not be proved to exist.
But don’t worry. The next year I registered my daughters 6 1/2 foot tortoise, and logged the required number of days rowing around Lake Montauk.