BoatU.S. questions need for marine ID system

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Speaking before the U.S. House of Representatives Coast Guard Subcommittee this week, BoatU.S. testified that a requirement for airplane transponder-like technology on boats is not practical and would not reduce the threat of a waterborne attack, according to a release from BoatU.S.

“Contrary to what Hollywood has portrayed, the average boat in this country is 16 feet. Requiring some type of transponder on recreational boats — many of whom don’t even have a battery to power it — would only be window dressing for a potential homeland security problem that will not be reduced, despite the outlay of billions of dollars,” Margaret Podlich, BoatU.S. vice president of Government Affairs, told the subcommittee.

Marine Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) have long been used by commercial ships and provide important vessel identification, position, speed and course information to fellow mariners as well as land-based vessel traffic control systems. Since Sept. 11, the Coast Guard has been tasked by the Dept. of Homeland Security to develop a small-boat threat assessment and strategy to reduce the possibility of small watercraft being used by terrorists, according to Boat U.S.

“The challenge with AIS is that it does not provide the ability to reduce the small boat threat,” Podlich said. “For starters, the AIS unit on a small boat can simply be turned off. And more importantly, how could the U.S. Coast Guard monitor the millions of new vessel traffic movements? The monitoring would be overwhelming, on-the-water force response inadequate, and it would be costly to taxpayers to build and operate the system.”

BoatU.S. believes the U.S. Coast Guard would have better results addressing the small boat threat if the agency’s own America’s Waterway Watch program had better funding and infrastructure support. The waterway watch program is similar to a neighborhood watch program.

“Several government reports have concluded that working with recreational and commercial vessel operators is a key to increasing our domestic maritime security,” Podlich said. “Boaters need to know they have the ability to report to the U.S. Coast Guard when they see something looks suspicious on the water by calling 1-877-24WATCH. We hope Congress will bolster this program since it’s so critical in reducing the small boat threat.”

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