How Much Liberty Is Too Much?

David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

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36 Responses

  1. James Hanley says:

    Wait, you let lawyers on your boat? I hope you had your own lawyer draw up a waiver that they had to sign? I’ve been skeptical about having any social interactions with lawyers since a friend of mine was essentially blackmailed into cutting down some beautiful cypress trees in his yard by a lawyer neighbor who very pointedly told him that he’d better get rid of them, or else if they ever blew down and damaged the lawyer’s house, the lawsuit would seek maximum recompense. And if there’s anything more nerve-wracking that a neighbor lawyer, surely it’s in-law lawyers?

    But beyond that, this post is a great example of why we shouldn’t be too quick to assume that enacting a regulation will really accomplish our desired end. There are always ways to fudge things, and truly effective monitoring is simply too costly to be realistic. That’s why we end up relying on things like registration numbers, which in no way would have provided real evidence that our captain actually had spent those hours on the water.

    In education, one of the regulatory memes today is assessment, so now we all have to do assessment of various things. Assessment is good, and we should all assess the effectiveness of what we’re doing, but as this policy works out, as long as I turn in a report, it gets bundled with other reports and then we report that we did assessment. The report ends up sitting on a shelf, so if anyone wants to check whether we did assessment, they can be shown that the report is sitting right there where it’s supposed to be. But nobody, absolutely nobody, will ever take a serious look at that assessment, and if they did, they would have absolutely no way of knowing whether the information I put in it has any relation to reality, or whether I just made it all up (E.g., all my students in our senior research seminar could suck, but I could write in the assessment report that 90% of them met our “Excellent” standard, and the other 10% met our “good” standard, and there’d be no way to ever demonstrate I made it all up.)Report

  2. Informative post, David. And that last paragraph and photo are GOLD!Report

  3. Shannon's Mouse says:

    Ironically, New Hampshire (Live Free or Die) requires anyone operating a boat on NH waters with a motor over 25 hp to have completed a certified boating education course.Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    I must confess to a certain amount of resentment at being thus singled out as an Advocate of Self-Evident Regulatory Good in this wicked world. Let a wretched old film prop, her rotten timbers planked over put to sea, requiring the dispatch of a US Coast Guard rescue crew and a long search for the two people they couldn’t rescue — and lo, now comes David Ryan before the court of Public Opinion to tell us of how he obtained his Near-Coastal Master certificate by paddling about in a tub on Lake Montauk.

    Now I am glad there is such a thing as a Near-Coastal Master certificate. I am also heartened to see he has such a certificate. I have assiduously followed his long saga, telling of the building of MON TIKI and long may she travel the whale roads.

    I taught sailing to children in the Chesapeake, out of North East, Maryland. I’m not completely ignorant of boating. The boat never went out but what I’d given her an inspection. The Chesapeake is not deep water: even a moderate breeze can kick up dangerous waves. Putting to sea in any ship is serious business. The sea doesn’t care. Confident, cocky, lazy, dead.

    The very idea, that a sorry old hulk can put to sea with sixteen souls, go to pieces in a storm — and that the Coast Guard which was obliged to rescue these silly people should not have the right to impose some standards and regulation upon ships and mariners, that the question becomes How Much Liberty is Too Much Liberty, is Libertarian Smugness writ large. Let the Libertarians put to sea in any old rotten ship. But first take out their transponders and their radios, that they might fully enjoy their Liberties without encumbering the US Coast Guard with their distress calls.Report

    • M.A. in reply to BlaiseP says:

      But first take out their transponders and their radios, that they might fully enjoy their Liberties without encumbering the US Coast Guard with their distress calls.

      Space awesome.

      And yet usually when I point out that the impact of careless actions by fools causes cost to the commons, I’m told “so what” by the libertarians.Report

      • Damon in reply to M.A. says:

        As a hard core libertarian, I’m cool with this.

        Don’t come crying to us if you FUBAR. We might come save your ass, but we’re billing you for the costs.

        And FYI for consistancy: don’t show up at the hospital with head trama after refusing to insure yourself and then not wearing a helmet on your cycle. I’ve no problem turning you away.Report

    • David Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Brother Blaise, your writing has a lovely lilt when you’ve been well and properly baited! Let this aswage your (and anyone else’s) concern. My application was, and is long on coastal and oceans sea-service, but was short on total time. Time on Lake Montauk, or Long Island Sound, or the Chesapeake, whatever the craft (so long as she is registered) counts as sea-service, but none of it will get you a Near Coastal Masters, which requires a year underway on the ocean side of the COLREGS boundary. I lost near coastal days and sheltered waters day both by the disallowing of my time on LS Margaret Ellen, but it was only a few days of sheltered water time that I needed to make the grade. If you can’t be amused by the Little Pink Boat being used to make up the difference, well then I can’t help you brother.

      As to EPIRPs and rescues and old-timey personal responsibly, well that’s a fair point, but the application to Bounty is far too narrow. People put to sea who shouldn’t, in boats capable and incapable, and the chances they’ll get rescued are greater now than they were 10 years ago, let alone 100. That’s made some people caviler, and maybe Captain Wallbridge was one of them. That’s a shame, and something to get angry about too.

      But you still haven’t offered a practical, scalable way to enforce your vision of a better maritime regulation. In fact, you haven’t offered any vision at all, not even in the broadest strokes.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to David Ryan says:

        I am the cobbler who must stick to the topic of shoes and not the great men who wear them. Software and poetry and some aspects of foreign policy, of those I will speak with some authority.

        But you may not have it both ways, Cap’n Ryan. Should I say “Oh, from my vast experience on ships, I recommend the same protocol as for aircraft, a D Level check every five years”, you’d politely sneer at me and say I was no mariner and that’s only a protocol for commercial aircraft and let’s all sing a few verses of The Rent is Too Damn High and Ain’t Libertarians Great.

        Your own ship’s timbers are sound but there will surely come a day in the distant future where all that wonderful plywood will have to come off and a competent ship’s carpenter will take the Sawzall to her rotten bits. And there your ghost will be, looking over his shoulder, still in love with your ship, glad to see that carpenter doing the right thing by MON TIKI. And we might both hope he’s not doing it on the cheap and cutting corners. You didn’t cut corners in her building.

        This isn’t my question to answer, Cap’n Dave. I asked you and you’re still squirming. Let’s just say, in the far-distant future, that ship’s carpenter did a crappy job and MON TIKI went to sea and broke up as did Bounty. When she was built, she was inspected and you were proud enough to get MON TIKI certified as a unique ship. I would think you would be the first to advocate for an inspections regime. Clearly this isn’t the case.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to David Ryan says:

        I’ve been following this thread with some interest and my one contribution (other than praising the OP) is that back in the 90’s (so I don’t know if this is still the case), some federally managed rivers in the mountain west (coast guard, I think) required a minimum number of certifiable hours on those specific rivers that were logged by an outfit certified by the CG to commercially run those rivers. So the point was very similar to your point here: total river hours or competence didn’t matter to the CG when it came to dispensing the license. It created a bit of a catch-22 for experienced raft guides because the only way to accumulate those hours was to be a non-paid passenger on a certain number of trips which somewhat defeated the allure of running those bigger rivers.

        I don’t know if things have changed since then.Report

      • M.A. in reply to David Ryan says:

        Why should BlaiseP have to offer you some specific plan, when you yourself did such a great job pointing out the holes in the current scheme?

        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 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.

        Looks like the solutions are pretty darn obvious. For fish’s sake, I almost had my car go out of legal driving status this year because the gas cap wasn’t sealing tight, and yet the Bounty was allowed onto the ocean with rotten structure.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to David Ryan says:

        If you can’t be amused by the Little Pink Boat being used to make up the difference, well then I can’t help you brother.

        Heh. That is quite funny. But I have to say David, if I were on the review board I’d take some points off. A good captain oughta know that you can’t really control a boat a using two paddles if they’re both on the same side of the craft.

        License denied!Report

    • David Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

      And I’ll add, the proliferation of EPIRBs (they used to cost thousands, now they cost hundreds) has created some real problems. There have been instances when the USCG has delayed response to genuine, life-threatening EPIRB distress calls because they were trying to confirm the distress call was genuine by making a phone-call to the shore-side contact that is a part of all EPIRB registration. That’s not the way the system is supposed to work, but it’s the way it works now because of all the less-than-life-threatening and accidental EPIRP signaling.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to David Ryan says:

        All the more reason that Libertarians should lobby for repeal of those onerous EPIRB regulations.Report

        • David Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Which EPIRB regs?Report

            • David Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

              § 25.26-10 EPIRB requirements for uninspected passenger vessels.
              (a) Uninspected passenger vessels less than 100 gross tons are not required to carry an EPIRB.
              (b) The owner, operator, or master of an uninspected passenger vessel of at least 100 gross tons must ensure that the vessel does not operate beyond three miles from shore as measured from the territorial sea baseline seaward or more than three miles from the coastline of the Great Lakes, unless it has onboard a float-free, automatically activated Category 1 406 MHz EPIRB stowed in a manner so that it will float free if the vessel sinks.

              I suppose a Libertarian, which I am not, might argue that the State overreaches by requiring Uninspected Vessel over 100 tons to carry an EPIRB, though it’s not clear that this applies to Bounty. While documented as an UPV, she did not operate as an IPV. As per the gCaptain report, she was operating as a private vessel.

              Fine, rescind the law. Rescind all EPIRB requirements. That will not prevent any vessel from buying , registering and using (or misusing) an EPIRB.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to David Ryan says:

                I have answered your question. You are merely quoting my answer. You would tell us of problems with EPIRB. They are the same problems faced by the 911 system (which I worked on long ago while at AT&T Bell Labs) but they are all of a regulatory piece. In this society, we have seen fit to provide these amenities at public expense for the benefit of all and sundry. If I asked how we might go about regulating rotten ships off our coastal waters, I did not get the answer I wanted.

                I did not get any answer at all.

                All you seem to have are questions, daring me to answer them all from my own admitted ignorance. You have expanded my honest question into a post on the subject of How Much Liberty is Too Much Liberty. Do not now rhetorically throw your hands up and belabour me with gnomic acronyms and tell me what’s Fine. It’s high time you answered a few of mine.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Even this libertarian feels the need to call the Fire Marshall at the sight of how much straw you just piled up in one place.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe says:

        Seconds out, sir. Snark is no substitute for sound thinking. Perhaps you can save the good Cap’n’s arguments for he is hard-pressed when it comes to answers to honest questions.Report

      • David Ryan in reply to Kolohe says:

        This suggests you would support a reporting requirement for boatyards; that when they encounter conditions they regard as unsafe on a vessel, even privately operated vessels, they should be obliged to report their finding to a regulatory body.

        I don’t think this would work. I think it would create regulatory encumbrances out of proportion to the benefit, and create a host of unintended negative consequences; most obviously that the least responsible vessel owners would eschew having their vessels worked on by regulated shops.

        But I don’t think it’s an irrational position to take. I just don’t think it will work very well.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to David Ryan says:

          That is exactly what I’m proposing and it would work splendidly. As I previously pointed out, the Boothbay Harbor shipyard did manifestly substandard work on other ships and was taken to Federal court.

          Regulatory Encumbrances my ass. Look at those pictures. I’ll tell you what’s all out of proportion, this notion wherein a ship goes in for repairs, then damned near sinks (Shenandoah) or does sink with the loss of life (Bounty) on the basis of crappy repairs — and this isn’t a cause for regulatory oversight of ships and shipyards. Regulations are written in blood, or in this case, sea water.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to David Ryan says:

          More on the Shenandoah fiasco here.

          Sea Scout, Newburyport

          I’m very disturbed to hear of such shoddy workmanship. I wonder how other vessels that have had work done there are fairing? Tall ship Bounty was up there recently, and Massachusetts tall ship Ernestina is at that shipyard now undergoing restoration. I hope the shipyard gets their act together, for the sake of the ships and the safety of the crew and passengers of these vessels.

          February 20, 2009 – 5:04pmReport

  5. David Ryan says:

    “In 2009, the Coast Guard counted 4,730 accidents that involved 736 deaths, 3,358 injuries and approximately $36 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents. Three-fourths (75%) of all fatal boating accidents in 2009 resulted from drowning. EIGHTY-FOUR PERCENT WERE NOT WEARING LIFE JACKETS! Seven out of ten who drowned were in open motorboats less than 21 feet in length.” citation

    For 736 death, 500 of which could have been prevent simply by the use of life-jackets, we’re going to create an inspection regime on par with what we have for automobiles? Contrary to Brother Blaise, I am not a Libertarian, and I favor sensible regulation. But it has to be proportionate and enforceable. Yearly ‘auto-style” inspects, or 5 year D-level inspections of private vessels does not strike me as either.

    As an Inspected Passenger Vessel, MON TIKI gets something akin to a D-level inspection every five years, and a C-level inspection every year. I support this and have (hopefully correctly) factor the cost of this into our business plan.

    But that works the other way. If you want every boat to get hauled every year, taken apart every year, and have all of this overseen and certified by a government agent, then you’ve got so sow where the money will come from, where the political will to do it will come from, and what the benefit will be. To me, it just doesn’t look tenable.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to David Ryan says:

      Nobody has asked for every vessel to be put on the pillars every year and gone over by some Officious Bureaucratic Martinet, leaning the captain up against the foremast and sticking his index finger into the captain’s fundament. I have only asked how we might keep structurally unsound ships from putting to sea.Report

      • David Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

        And by using the word “ships” you seem to be suggesting regulation by size, which failed, right here in Montauk, in such tragic fashion, that the regulations were overhauled to regulate 1) by whether a boat carried passengers for hire, or not; and if they carried passengers for hire, how many.

        Non-commercial vessels (as in Bounty) are lightly regulated. Vessel that carry 6 or fewer paying passengers are barely more regulated. Vessels carrying 7 or more are regulated in a manner not unlike buses, trains and airplanes; a combination of self-reporting and government inspection.

        How, Brother P, would you change this so that Bounty might have been prevented from going to sea?Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to David Ryan says:

          She was a shore attraction. Take out her rudder.Report

          • David Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

            An Attraction COI certifies what the vessel is, not what it is not. You submit your vessel to the USCG as suitable for a use, and they certify it as meeting the regulations for that use. Being certified as a shore-side attraction DOES NOT mean a vessel is unsafe to cross an ocean, it means it meets the regulatory requirements for a shore side attraction.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to David Ryan says:

              You asked me how Bounty might have been prevented from going to sea. I answered your question. I’d take out the rudder gear. That’s answer enough.Report

              • David Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

                No, Brother P. I asked how the present regulations might be changed so that Bounty might be, by a widely applicable and enforceable regulation, be prevented from going to sea. “Take out her rudder” is not an answer to that question; in fact, it’s no answer at all.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to David Ryan says:

                It is an entirely appropriate answer. Bounty somehow skirted the regs and was a shore attraction. An unsound ship would have its rudder gear disabled until it survived the equivalent of a D Level inspection. That’s the regulation I propose.Report

    • DavidTC in reply to David Ryan says:

      Wait a minute. 25% of recreational boating accident deaths _aren’t_ from drowning? What the hell were they from, then?

      I mean, boats do occasionally run into things, and presumably people die in such collisions. Although that would seem to either require either a much large ship smashing through a smaller one, because people normally are not hanging out at the very bow of the boat, at least not 25% of them!

      And boats can also run into or over people, but we usually manage to separate swimming areas from boating areas, so that seems odd also.

      Seriously, what did those 250 people die of? Caught up in rigging? Killed by a a swinging sail? Crushed between a boat and dock? What exactly is the threat here? Are they counting non-boat related deaths like heart attacks? (That does not seem to be a ‘recreational boating accident’.)Report

  6. Kolohe says:

    “Autos are deemed to fall under the protection of the Fourth Amendment.”

    are you sure about that?

    The increase in parameters subject to primary enforcement, particularly seat belt laws, couupled with the drug war, have almost completely stripped 4th amendment protections from motorists.

    But it’s alright, these laws for only written with the best intentions and for people’s own good. Drugs are just bad for you, as is not wearing your seatbelt.Report