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Avoid Being Boarded By The Coast Guard

What to do should you encounter the Coast Guard's LA51 Warning Device.

January 12, 2013
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Avoid Being Boarded By The Coast Guard

Coast Guard LA51 Warning Device

Avoid Being Boarded By The Coast Guard USCG

When I spot a boat with a red bow stripe, I generally scope out the situation to see what it’s up to, and maintain a weather eye in the event they get a rescue call, are assisting a fellow boater in distress or are providing security for an event or ship in the surrounding waters. In fact, the last time Breakaway was boarded for a vessel safety check by the Coast Guard my cue to throttle back and standby was an almost casual upraising of the Bosun’s Mate’s hand.

Had I missed that bit of seagoing subtlety, they’d have certainly got my attention with any combination of blue flashing lights, sirens and hailing me in the VHF.

Apparently, there are some boaters that need a stronger attention-getter: enter the LA51 Warning Device.

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The LA51 is a 12-gauge shotgun shell, similar to the “cracker” shells used in agriculture, aviation, and elsewhere, as a non-lethal deterrent to nuisance wildlife. Put another way, they are similar to the flares in many boater’s safety kits, except that the pyrotechnics are quick burning instead of slow burning and accompanied by a bang. I’ve never seen the LA51 in action, but I have fired cracker shells on the Fourth of July. I guarantee it can be heard, even above the roar of big-block engines with through-hull exhaust or the thumping beat of a wakeboat’s audio system.

The LA51 is not a bullet and not designed to cause physical harm to boats or humans. It’s a signaling device.

So if you see a bright white flash accompanied by a loud bang off your bow, throttle back and tune in to VHF 16. You aren’t under attack. But you may have entered a dangerous area, or one that is under security restrictions at the time.

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Some security zones are permanent, such as the zone around docked cruise ships or coastal airports; temporary security zones can include presidential visits, parades, races, construction projects and more.

Takeaway: For dates, times and locations of security zones on your waters, check out the weekly Local Notices To Mariners for your region here.

Or you can subscribe to and receive free weekly updates via email here.

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Get Candian Notices To Mariners here.

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