Get Ready for Big Brother!

The world about us becomes seemingly more personally intrusive with each passing year. Cameras placed everywhere civilized people move about can scan thousands of license plates per minute so authorities can "catch more bad guys." The Feds now say we must all have health insurance or we will be punished. A growing number of employers now demand control over some of what you do in your personal life - even when it has no direct bearing on your job performance. Boating is not going to get by unscathed either. The National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) advises the U. S. Coast Guard on matters of safe recreational boating. Council members (of which I am one) are appointed by the Secretary of Homeland Security. The composition of the council consists of state officials responsible for State boating safety programs, boat and associated equipment manufacturers and representatives from national recreational boating associations and the general public. As the council name suggests, it exists solely to advise, not to create statutes or regulations. The big discussion right now is mandatory life jacket wear. The government wants to cut the number of boating fatalities (there being no acceptable number of deaths statistically speaking). Many members of the council (especially the marine law enforcement officers who have pulled bodies from the water) agree and would like to see everyone aboard any vessel 26-feet long or smaller wear a life jacket of some sort at all times. Some of us who become devout Libertarians as soon as the docklines leave the cleats take issue with that. Don't get me wrong: I firmly believe in wearing life jackets when appropriate and have been known to order my crew to don them prior to transiting a dangerous inlet or some other dangerous circumstance. And I certainly have no problem with boats or activities that easily land you in the water- such as kayaks, canoes, small sailboats, towed sports, wind- and kitesurfing, riding personal watercraft and the like. In other words, in circumstances where common sense and rational thought dictate that wearing a life jacket is a wise and prudent thing to do. But throwing out a blanket edict is absurd on several levels. First, it's unnecessary. Second, it's virtually unenforceable. We presently have too few marine LEOs to handle business as usual. Adding an aspect such as this to their responsibilities may break the camel's back. So in my sometimes-perceived contrarian fashion, I plan to offer an alternative. Require life jacket wear on the types of craft I mentioned earlier and require boating safety education with certification that is reciprocal throughout all 50 states. In my mind, an educated boat operator is a safer one.