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
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
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
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.”
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
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…
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.