Feds Float Boater ID Proposal to Secure Restricted Areas

Nov. 1--BOSTON HARBOR -- A new federal proposal that would require all boat operators to carry identification isn't making a lot of waves among South Sound boaters.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department, which includes the Coast Guard, wants boat operators to carry ID so the agency can create a database of boaters found in restricted areas, such as near Navy bases.

Homeland Security also wants states to require boating courses that teach skippers how to avoid restricted areas.

"I don't see anything wrong with that," said Don McHugh, a co-owner of Boston Harbor Marina. "It wouldn't invade people's privacy."

McHugh compared it to drivers having to carry driver's licenses. Also, identification would come in handy when boaters break the law, he said.

Most Washington boaters are getting used to the idea of carrying an identification card. Boaters are gearing up to pass a mandatory safety course

and to start carrying state-required boater-safety cards.

Starting Jan. 1, boat operators ages 12 to 20 must pass a safety course and carry a boater-education card if they pilot a boat with a motor of 15 horsepower or more, said Sandy Mealing, spokeswoman for Washington State Parks, which runs the boater-safety program.

The state Legislature passed the boater-safety law in 2005, Mealing said.

The federal government hasn't talked to the state about the boater ID proposal, Mealing said.

"Whether our boater-education card would be sufficient to meet the federal identification, I don't know," Mealing said.

The Olympia Police Department has a marine patrol that enforces the law on the part of Budd Inlet within city limits. But the federal government hasn't talked to Olympia police about the new proposal, spokesman Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad said.

Marine officers already ask boaters for vessel registration and personal identification during stops, Bjornstad said.

"This doesn't seem like much of an intrusion," he said.

McHugh said he'd like to see more law enforcement officers in Puget Sound. Too many boaters drink and break the law, he said.

"At Boston Harbor, we're out of the jurisdiction of the Olympia Police Harbor Patrol, and some people do whatever they want," McHugh said.