Libertarian Sailing Thoughts (by popular demand)

I spent a number of moons sailing in the Sea of Cortez – Mexican waters. I’ve had a taste of sailing in California – Coast Guard waters. I find one more rewarding and redeeming than the other.

Now, both areas are beautiful, and the weather in these neighboring locations is the envy of the world. There are minor differences; for example, the winds are better on the Pacific coast, while the Sea of Cortez is free of shipping lanes and less crowded in general.

The difference is safety – not the degree, but the nature thereof.

In Mexico, there is no Coast Guard to call when you run out of gas; in fact, there is no Coast Guard to call if you are on fire and sinking. Does that make cruising in Mexico inherently unsafe? Nope. It means that the responsibility for safety shifts from the government to the sailor.

In California, the Coast Guard assumes the responsibility for rescue operations of vessels in distress. Unfortunately, along with responsibility comes authority. They have the authority to dictate the behavior of skipper and crew, equipment kept on board, even the posting of signs warning people not to break the rules. I’m not suggesting that the equipment is not useful, nor the behavior appropriate; but completing a scavenger hunt does not, in it self, make one safe on the water. Safety becomes an act of compliance, rather than individual preparedness.

In Mexico, no one will board your boat to see if your red flares have passed their shelf life. While it is true that Mexican authorities may board your boat to check for documentation, and a license if fishing equipment is aboard, it remains a rather unlikely event. In the ten months I lived aboard in Mexico, I never saw a government craft. So the sailor in Mexico assumes responsibility for his safety, and retains authority over his boat and his life.

So in one case, the sailor assumes responsibility for himself. In the other, he trades off some responsibility, and authority, to the government; in return, the government promises to get him out of trouble. The Theory of Compensation suggests that as the risks are reduced, behavior becomes more reckless. Which environment encourages better seamanship? Which incentive inspires greater focus and caution – a slap on the wrist with a fine, or death (not necessarily a quick one)? Is there one more suited to the manly among us (may I use the term “manly” in the 21st century?). Is there one more suited to punks?

The sea is truly the last wild place. When you point your bow toward the open water outside the bay, does your heart soar because you’re entering the wild, or because you’re going for a walk in the park?