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A Boater Contemplates Freedom
by Barb Hansen
June 2009

July 4 is a great holiday known mainly across America for its downtown parades, family cookouts, and boisterous fireworks. I like to celebrate the fourth on the boat or the beach. 

Grilling burgers and watching fireworks from the aft deck or from loungers on the beach is even better.

Boats and beaches are the only places I can think of that release us, at least temporarily, from the ever-increasing tangle of laws that govern just about everything we do on land, not counting beaches.

I always thought that beaches were exempt from the tut-tutting looks and wagging fingers of the regulators. Except, I worry, they're not. More about this in a minute.

Boating is golden, though. For me, just the act of releasing the lines and easing the vessel out of the slip delivers a feeling of freedom.

I wrote a July 4 column a few years ago and tried to make the point that after the Declaration of Independence was issued there were not many laws and probably very little law enforcement. Still, American society functioned because most people chose to do good, not because they'd get cited.

Today, I'm proud to say this is still the philosophy that governs boating. Yes, boating has rules, protocols and etiquettes. Some are real laws; most are just customary. And boaters obey them, mainly out of mutual respect for the other boater or waterfront property owner.

I like it when everything is not spelled out in "Do Not" signs yet everybody does the right thing anyway.

I'm worried about our beaches, though. As the gecko on the commercial says, "What's the word?"

Oh yes. Intolerant.

For the most part Florida's beaches are wonderfully tolerant. But increasingly they seem to be coming under the jurisdiction of the tut-tutters, finger waggers, and sign makers.

Yes, it's personal.

Where Vic and I live there is now a new rule about where you can and cannot drive a golf cart. Why? Turtles don't lay their eggs on this beach. There are no crowds on the beach. In fact, most of the time nobody is even on this remote little beach. For 20 years golf carts have been the mode of transportation on this beach with nary a complaint from man, woman, or wildlife advocate.

Now there are signs.  “Keep Right, "Stay Left.”  Say what?

Sometimes, one also will hear a shrill voice. "Hey, don’t drive your cart over there. You're not supposed to go that way. You’re supposed to go this way!” 

These are the non-uniformed police who believe that "it takes a village." The problem is, they are not the village.

So, the bottom line for this boater and beach person is, treat others well. Watch your wake. Don't tread on their beach blanket. Obey all the rules and protocols of a polite society. Because it's the right thing to do. Don't pass laws and put up "do not" signs unless absolutely necessary.

Over time boaters and beach people, on their own, created societies of self-governing mutual respect. Alas, the bureaucrats and finger-waggers of the world can destroy the whole concept of individual responsibility with just one "do-not… This-means-you" sign.

So, here and now, I suggest that American boaters celebrate two things on July 4.

One, let's contemplate and celebrate the Declaration of Independence for the great United States of America.

Two, let's contemplate what I call a Beach and Boating Declaration of Independence. Let us rededicate ourselves to the continuing work of keeping our water and waterfront societies free and tolerant, and setting a good example for America's land-locked citizenry. It isn't "do not" signs that make America great. It's people taking personal responsibility for their actions.
 

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