Photo by CHRIS CURLE, Special to the Eagle // Buy this photo
If you live on water or ever go into or on it for play or work, Marco Island’s Coast Guard Auxiliary has an urgent message for you:
“Help us be the eyes and ears of the U.S. Coast Guard command that patrols the waters from Sarasota almost to the Florida Keys.”
The alert is called “America’s Waterway Watch,” a heightened effort to beware of and report suspicious behavior on or near the water. And they mean any water — the gulf shore, residential bays and waterways, lakes, streams, creeks, just about any water except what comes out of our faucets. We’re on our own for that.
I got the update on our waterway security along with my colleagues and co-members of the Marco Island chapter of the DAR — Daughters of the American Revolution.
At a recent meeting, we got an earful and an eyeful from Nancy Plank, commander of the Marco Island Flotilla of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. She pulled no punches explaining the need.
“We have had a lot of boat thefts in this area and a problem with smuggling by water, of drugs and of humans. The smugglers pretty much saturated the Miami area but now they’re coming this way. The problem is getting worse.” In short, Commander Plank told us, call immediately if you see any suspicious behavior. The Waterway Watch toll free number is 877-24-WATCH (877-249-2824).
If you’re outside and don’t recall that number, phone 9-1-1 fast.
Some facts to remember from Coast Guard Auxiliary Officials:
-- You cannot arrest anyone so don’t try to intervene. Just call.
-- Bad guys look for boats 28 feet and bigger anything with two or more engines, center consoles, including go-fast boats. They have no interest in small pontoon deck boats. They steal boats for use in smuggling or take them to chop shops for parts.
-- If you see a boat carrying a lot of containers, it’s not normal. Call.
-- If you see a big boat being hauled on a much smaller trailer, that’s suspicious.
-- If you see people on pleasure boats taking “unusual” tourist photos, such as the undersides of docks or bridges, be suspicious, especially if occupants are all youngish men, no kids. Call Waterway Watch.
Some good rules for boat-owners, keeping in mind that thieves can hotwire a boat in a few seconds:
-- Don’t leave your keys in the boat. No valuables either.
-- Turn off power to your lift. And get a “kill” switch, available at stores such as West Marine, for about $100.
-- If you take your boat to the Keys, for example, a popular cruise ship destination, be alert to suspicious activity around the cruise liners.
-- If you’re at a marina for repairs or supplies and a “friendly” stranger asks questions about the place, about how secure it is for his boat, be suspicious.
There’s more we all need to know about our nation’s security on and near the water. We are vulnerable.
Consider that Collier County has more than 80 nautical miles of shoreline and 600 miles of residential canals, including Marco Island.
The Coast Guard can’t be everywhere at once. That’s where the auxiliary and private citizens come in.
The Coast Guard station at Fort Myers Beach has approximately 42 active duty personnel and 27 or so reservists. They work hard, but their numbers are drops in the bucket (sorry) as they try to cover the vast waterfronts of Southwest Florida.
They need help in helping us stay safe.
For more info: www.americaswaterwaywatch.org
Chris Curle is a former news anchor for CNN and for ABC TV stations in Atlanta, Houston and Washington, D.C. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.