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a navy shipShoot Up the Sloop John B?


Pleasure boaters getting too close to Navy warships could be facing down some big guns.

AH, THE PLEASURES OF BOATING on San Diego Bay on a cool, crisp, clear fall day. Sneaking up on the U.S.S. Midway, now a museum. Gliding past the proud old Star of India. Breezing by berthed aircraft carriers, convening in front of the San Diego Convention Center and sluicing under the Coronado Bridge.

But beware of the sudden appearance of U.S. Navy gunboats. It’s not exactly general knowledge, but they’ve got permission to open fire on any sailboat, motorboat or other watercraft that gets too close to the numerous Navy ships and installations throughout the bay.

No one’s been blown out of the water yet, thanks to fast work and good coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Harbor Police. But since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, local Navy installations have significantly stepped up security—remembering that innocuous little tugboat that sailed up to the U.S.S. Cole in Yemeni waters in October 2000 and blew a lethal hole in its side.

“These are high-dollar, taxpayer-funded ships with people’s sons and daughters on board, and we work very hard to keep them safe,” says Lieutenant Commander Pat McNally. The bay is well marked with buoys and signs ordering boaters to keep back 300 yards from any Navy ship. And the aircraft carriers have floating booms around them, marking the no-go zone. But plenty of pleasure boaters still get too close to Navy installations, including those in Glorietta Bay off Coronado and around the Amphibious Warfare Base in National City, according to Coast Guard officials.

“We have to chase people away all the time,” says U.S. Coast Guard First Class Petty Officer Tim Burns. “It’s right up there with the number of [calls for] people who run themselves aground.”

Charter outfits, including Seaforth Boat Rentals, instruct their customers on the Navy’s rules and show them maps before the boats go out, general manager Dave Brotherton says. And boating associations like the San Diego Yacht Club keep their members up to date on the latest rules and regulations.

“We highlight the areas on the charts and show the customers, just like we show them the really shallow areas of the South Bay they need to stay out of,” Brotherton says. “We tell people if they really want to check out a warship, they should have a look at the Midway. No one gets shot over that.”

—MARTY GRAHAM
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