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Keeping guns aboard lawfully; it’s complicated

My current gig, other than stirring the pot with this blog, is to organize the seminar portion of TrawlerFest. I usually try not to use Loose Cannon to blatantly plug our program, but please stay with me for a minute. The seminar in question is about guns aboard, but it’s not what you think.

Thirty years ago I brought a gun on a cruise to Maine because someone told me the lobstermen were armed and hostile. What an innocent age, when cruising Maine would be compared to taking a covered wagon through “Injun Country!”

Well, the lobstermen were indeed armed, and sometimes even hostile. But in the rare cases when gunfire has erupted in Down East waters, it has been fishermen shooting at one another over territory, not at the passing sailors. I quit taking my rifle when I noticed the barrel beginning to rust.

Since then I have traveled by boat down island to the Caribbean, up the Pacific Coast and in the waters of the Middle East and Africa from Oman to Djibouti and through the Suez Canal. As a marine journalist, I have engaged in the eternal debate over the eternal question: “To carry or not to carry?” Usually, I would argue, not, but that’s not the point with this seminar.

Novelist Ernest Hemingway used to carry a Thompson submachine gun aboard Pilar. He used it to shoot sharks when necessary and leaping stingrays for target practice when drinking.

Ernest Hemingway used to carry a Thompson submachine gun aboard Pilar. He used it to shoot sharks when necessary and leaping stingrays for target practice when drinking.

About 15 years ago I met Paul Ward, a convivial guy who, like me, would take on occasional delivery work. He and another sailor were taking some lawyer’s boat from Florida to the Virgin Islands when an incident happened that would change their lives for the next two years.

Ward and his partner were anchored in a little bay on the south coast of Puerto Rico for the night when they awoke to the sound of boots on deck. A SWAT team of police — a veritable everything-bagel of law enforcement — had come to call. Unbeknownst to the pair of sailors, the scumbag lawyer had an AR-15, a handgun and a pile of ammo hidden in a secret locker. The police, who initially had no real reason to board the vessel, had hit the jackpot.

The Yankees were arrested and charged under Puerto Rican law. They pleaded ignorance — to no immediate avail. They faced 25 years in prison each for violations of the island’s stringent gun law. The boat’s owner tried to weasel out, but finally relented and agreed to pay for the delivery captains’ legal defense. It took two years of return visits for hearings before a Puerto Rican judge figured out a contorted way to dismiss the charges against the obviously innocent men.

Fast-forward to my involvement in TrawlerFest today. One of our most successful seminars is presented by lawyer Todd Lochner. It focuses on what cruisers need to know to avoid local tax traps as they transit the East Coast of the United States. I always like to joke that his seminar is scarier than the ones we put on about heavy weather and medical emergencies.

I remember mentioningWard’s story to him and musing out loud that many Americans don’t realize the trouble they can get into because of a gun in a place that is almost a state. Then it occurred to me that his multi-jurisdictional approach to tax law might be worth replicating vis-à-vis the hot-button topic of guns onboard. It took some convincing since he — and later his team — would have to take a lot of time away from billable hours to create this new seminar, which we call “Guns & Governments” for short. I am grateful he agreed to take it on.


What I have made clear from the get-go is that this is not a debate about whether to carry a gun. This is a seminar for cruisers who have already made up their minds or are close to it, and now need strategic intelligence about the gun laws along the East Coast, the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean basin.

The TrawlerFest boat show and seminar series happen at Bay Bridge Marina Yacht Club on Kent Island at the foot of Maryland’s magnificent Bay Bridge Tuesday through Sunday, Sept. 29-Oct. 4. The boat show runs Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 1-4, and includes booths displaying marine products and services.

The “Guns & Governments” seminar will be on Thursday, Oct. 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

If you come, look me up. I’ll buy you a bottle of Loose Cannon beer, a Baltimore brand with a nautical bent.