Small-boat security no easy task

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Putting electronic identifiers on pleasure boats, issuing identity cards to megayacht crews and enlisting boaters as the Department of Homeland Security’s “eyes and ears” may indeed help deter terrorists from attacking domestic targets in small boats, but Preskitt thinks a little common sense also would help.

Sid Preskitt is bemused by all the talk about small-vessel security. Putting electronic identifiers on pleasure boats, issuing identity cards to megayacht crews and enlisting boaters as the Department of Homeland Security’s “eyes and ears” may indeed help deter terrorists from attacking domestic targets in small boats, but Preskitt thinks a little common sense also would help.

Preskitt, 56, a delivery captain from Daytona Beach, Fla., saw virtually no security in some high-risk, high-traffic areas as he moved a 55-foot wooden lobster boat from Point Pleasant, N.J., to Fort Lauderdale in mid-May. Ultimately bound for Jamaica, where a new owner awaited its delivery, the 30-year-old workboat carried 18 plastic drums strapped to the gunwales to store extra diesel fuel.

Preskitt says he motored within a stone’s throw of three aircraft carriers and a cavalcade of docked destroyers, cruisers and salvage ships off Lamberts Point at Naval Station Norfolk (Va.), and was never once challenged. There were no security booms set out or patrol boats standing by. Lamberts Point, on the ElizabethRiver, is the site of a Navy deperming station where ships are demagnetized so they are less vulnerable to mines and detection.

“It just struck me as very odd that with all this hullabaloo about small-boat security and [transportation workers’ identity] cards, I could steer right past them with all those plastic drums,” he says. “Anything could have been in them. The point is that nobody was curious enough to check.”

Preskitt says the same thing happened as he motored into one of the marinas in Port Canaveral the day before a shuttle launch at the nearby NASA facility. “Up and down the ICW I didn’t see any security,” he says.

In April, Homeland Security released its small-vessel security strategy. The report advises, among other things, educating boaters in what they should look for in suspicious activity on the water and how to report it, and how they should operate their boats in or near security zones. Homeland Security also is investigating low-cost, non-intrusive small-vessel identification systems such as radio-frequency identification tags, miniature transponders, portable GPS devices or cell phone-based recognition systems that small boats would carry for identification purposes when transiting “high-risk, high-traffic areas.”

After coming down the Intracoastal Waterway in a boat he would have thought highly suspicious and not once being stopped, Preskitt thinks small-

vessel security is a huge task. “There’s so much activity out there, how are you going to get a handle on it?” he asks.

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