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AVALON, Calif. – My most recent dealings with the Coast Guard, trying to work through their byzantine tangle of regulations spawned by the 1920 passage of the Jones Act, has been a frustrating experience.
The Jones Act was passed to protect US coastwise trade by restricting commercial enterprises to using only American made vessels in their operations. This protectionist Act essentially was designed to ensure the American ship-building interests would thrive.
It did not work.
Over the years the Act has been reinterpreted to encompass even small passenger vessels such as GUSTO!. However, even the US Coast Guard is often baffled by the regulations. This leads to chaos and confusion when trying to document a vessel into Coastwise Trade.
And there lies the problem.
At its heart it seems a simple matter. If you want to operate a commercial enterprise in US waters, buy a US built boat. I get that. I even agree with it. The tag line for our Afishinados Gallery Store is “Everything Fishy, Nothing Imported”.
Unfortunately, there is nothing that can more effectively screw up a simple concept than the bureaucracy put in place to enforce it, thus the owner must PROVE that a boat was built in the United States using American made components, even if that brand of boat has a 40 year history of being an American made product.
Dr. Suess would have a field day with this. For this exchange, please imagine the kids (me) trying to convince the Coast Guard (Cat in the Hat):
It is easy to see, if you just open your eyes
That this boat was built by American Guys
It has never been true, in over 40 years
That this brand of boat was ever built outside of here.
Though that may be true, for 40 years
It might not be true for just the day
That your particular boat was built in May
But the letter from the builder says it is true
Why would you think he would try to fool you?
Yes, that letter we have, and we want to believe
But we need it to say in words that we use
All the stuff that is in, both thing one and thing two,
Is the right kind of stuff for us to approve.
But it says that it is, and it is signed to attest
That this boat and the parts were made the best
Right here in the states, within the US.
How can this be true, how can he just say
Lest the records he has were those from the day
When your boat was fresh built
From that one day in May?
It is true if he says, what everyone knows
Tis not your job to question him so.
He signed and did say without question or pause
That the boat built in May
Met the 46 CFR 67.99 (a) (1) clause…
Ahh, that clause is important, and must always be met
But clause (a) (2) is the one that will let
Me believe it is true, both Thing 1 and Thing 2
This cannot be true, it cannot be so
The nature of Thing 1 makes it not be Thing 2
They are different you see, both they can’t be
Else your regulation would need a new thing called 3
And so it goes.
The bureaucratic posture is to reject anything that does not fit within the checklist. I can live with this. Give me the checklist and I will work within it to comply.
However, when the target is constantly moving and being held by different members of the enforcing community with different views of what the regulations mean or which regulations apply, the maze becomes impossible to navigate.
And here is the rub. When an individual working within a company makes a decision that does not sit well with a customer, that customer has options. Complain. Write a review. Contact the corporate office.
But when a decision is made by one individual within the bureaucracy, there is no recourse. The Coast Guard does not have a Trip Advisor page. There is no customer service department.
By Capt. John King
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