In modern day New York State and on the lower stretch of the Niagara River in particular, the freedom once known by boaters seems as outmoded as the birchbark canoe.
More and more, cadres of game wardens, State Parks Police, the U.S. Coast Guard and even Canadian immigration officials, have taken to harassing recreational boaters and fisherman in previously unheard of fashion.
A recent "helpful" news release put out by the Office of State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is nothing but instructive about the Big Brother doublespeak employed by those who would strip away our freedoms in the name of protecting us from ourselves.
For a safe and enjoyable boating season, State Parks recommends the following," it begins. But what follows are not recommendations at all, but laws that carrycriminal penalties.
"Until May 1, life jackets are required to be worn by everyone on any boat less than 21 feet in length," State Parks dictates.
"Beginning May 1, all boat operators born on or after May 1, 1996 are now required to obtain a Safe Boating Certificate by completing an eight-hour safe boating course. Courses may be completed and certificates obtained through State Parks, U.S. Power Squadrons, or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. A new law signed by the governor phases-in this existing requirement to all boaters beginning with those born on or after May 1, 1996."
As any first year junior college English major could tell you, there is a huge gulf of difference between a recommendation and a requirement. While the former might beconsidered a helpful hint, in this case the latter constitutes a criminal offense.
The horror stories associated with this plethora of new laws and fanatical water police charged with enforcing them are legion. It's gotten to the point, in fact, where on certain dates at certain hours, there are more police boats cruising the Lower Niagara than there are recreational watercraft.
And boaters are noticing. In one recent newspaper article, the Harbor Master at the Village of Lewiston launch ramp was quoted as saying "it's like a ghost town down there!"
He went on to say that boats that have already been inspected and approved by the Coast Guard are being pulled over repeatedly on the Lower Niagara by Coast Guard patrols with apparently nothing better to do.
The fishing business is going down like the Titanic as lengthy Coast Guard inspections eat up time booked by recreational fishermen, again even when the charter boat skippers have passed safety inspections in the past.
And in perhaps the worst horror story of all, a group of boaters from Rochester – all with valid Canadian fishing licenses – were stopped by water-borne Canadian immigration police and actually had their vessel confiscated because they failed to call immigration before they crossed the unmarked line in the river that separates American from Canadian waters.
While we realize that cash-strapped law enforcement agencies have to support their bloated bureaucracies somehow, perhaps the answer lies not in the harassment of sportsmen who already pay millions in taxes and license fees to use the natural resources that belong to us all, but to cut back on the number of officers charged with enforcing the ridiculous laws, since there are obviously way too many of them.