Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mangled MARBs

So there I am, cruising (perhaps I should say "toodling"?) down the coast of New Jersey, and I'm bored, so I follow a call for assistance over to channel 22. As I listen to the confusion only the CG seems capable of adding to a simple non-emergency assistance case, I nearly fell off the helm chain when I heard CG Atlantic City ask for the mariner's BOAT/US membership number!

Perhaps the CG would like to mail out the renewal notices from now on? This was not just a matter of getting lost in the MARB flow chart; the word "membership" does not exist in the policy, and I for one think we should insist that it remain that way. The USCG is not your dispatcher, they shouldn't offer to be your dispatcher, and you shouldn't ask them to be your dispatcher. With the exception of some rare cases with very difficult communications, the CG should not be requesting membership information from disabled boaters.

As long as we're on the subject, here is another peeve of mine: "Do you have commercial salvage?" I hear that question from the Coast Guard to disabled mariners far too often. Invariably, the question is asked at some point during what should be a nice, clean-cut MARB proceedure. Is is just me, or are the CG radio operators getting really sloppy?

First of all, "Do you have commercial salvage" isn't even grammatically correct. One could have a contract with a commercial salvor, and one could have a membership with a commercial assitance organization, but salvage is a verb (the word commercial is just a modifier), its not something you could own or 'have', which would be a noun.

The problem is that even if I cut them some grammatical slack (less than my 4th grade english teacher would have), a MARB has nothing whatsoever to do with membership. The criteria is pretty simple: emergency or NON-emergency. The MSAP decision flow chart is completely void of any mention of cost, financial arrangements, memberships, etc; and correctly so. Once the CG has determined that they are not responding, they should ask the following:

"Is there a friend, marina or commercial assistance provider you would like us to contact on your behalf?" (see USCG SAR Mission Coordinator Maritime Assistance Decision Flow Chart).

The industry has worked hard to differentiate between salvage and non-emergency towing and assistance. Indeed, the memberships expressly exclude salvage services. The question "do you have commercial salvage" not only obliterates that difference, but the term salvage is one that today's recreational boater has been taught is a threatening idea that should be avoided at all costs. And now, when all they need is a simple jump start, here is the US Coast Gaurd suggesting that they need salvage?

Next time you hear "Do you have commercial salvage?", make a very friendly call to the watch commander and remind them to try and follow the MSAP more closely.