From the Boathouse: Watch out for suspicious boats

Ahoy, and summer officially begins next Friday!

Does anyone find it surprising that a sailboat carrying 80 to 90 bales of marijuana was beached in Newport Harbor after a brief chase by the Coast Guard? This occurred at 1 a.m. on June 3 after the drug smugglers entered the harbor and refused to allow the Coast Guard personnel to board the sailboat. Finally, the boat was run aground on Balboa Island, and two people leapt from the vessel only to disappear in the night.

This is not surprise to me and nor is it a surprise to law enforcement. Almost weekly, a panga from Mexico is found deserted along Southern California's coast or seized by authorizes. Either drugs or human trafficking is being smuggled into the U.S., and I have written for years that our southern ocean border is wide open to allow this activity.

The smugglers are going farther out to sea before turning north to avoid the radar system in San Diego and any law enforcement boats that I usually see patrolling between the mainland and Coronado Islands on the U.S. side of the International border.

I have warned in my previous columns for boaters to be careful approaching disabled vessels in the Pacific Ocean because of the potential of being hijacked by smugglers. Boaters should contact the Coast Guard if they spot a panga or any suspicious vessels operating along our coastline. Unfortunately, a Coast Guardsman was killed last year when his patrol boat was rammed by the smugglers.

However, it is not just pangas being used to transport drugs or people as demonstrated by the individuals who fled from the sailboat. Yachts have used to smuggle people across the border and usually in very unsafe vessels with no life jackets, little food and water and engines that barely operate. Additionally, these vessels carry extra fuel in containers on deck and this creates a potentially explosive environment onboard.

I want every boater to be aware when cruising the ocean waters this summer. Again, if you see a boat in distress, then approach the vessel with caution and notify the Coast Guard immediately of the situation either by your VHF marine radio on channel 16 or call 877-24WATCH.

On another topic that is good news for recreational boating, the National Marine Manufacturers Assn. (NMMA) announced this week that at least 88 million Americans will go boating this year. An estimated 88 million people participate in boating in 2012, and the number of people floating on the water is increasing annually.

Boat sales were up in 2012 with aluminum hull boats showing an uptick in sales along with increased sales for powerboats and sailboats. Boating is a huge economic generator to the nation and NMMA is reporting the value to be $121 billion and 964,000 American jobs. Annually, NMMA publicizes the Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract loaded with tons of data about the industry.

The recreational marine industry may be recovering from the severe economic downturn of the past few years, and the increase in sales is a great sign. Additionally, it is almost officially summer and people want to get back on the water. Remember, the next time you go boating then take a friend for the first time.

Tip of the week is that the U.S. Coast Pilot books are now online and in digital format for you to download for free. The new digital versions are updated every week, and you can download any of the nine volumes for the area where you will be boating.

The NOAA will still produce the hard copies of the Coast Pilot, but updates will no longer be included in the weekly Local Notice to Mariners ( Additionally, there is a link to historical publications dating back to the American Coast Pilot's first edition that was released in 1796. For those cruising to distance ports, there is a link to a digital version of distances between United States ports that is very helpful when trip planning your route and fuel stops.

The digital Coast Pilots and the other links are available at So, download and review the Coast Pilot of the waters where you will be cruising this summer.

Please be boat smart and boat safe. Lastly, please boat responsibly and look behind you before the turn the wheel at the helm.

Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, "Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting live coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network. See times at and

Safe Voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to

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