Good fences may make good neighbors, but they don’t float real well. Case in point is the recent video showing the Coasties doing something with a sailboat. (Video: Coast Guard boat crew helps sinking sailors near Annapolis, Md.)

From what I saw, the Coasties weren’t doing much more than trampling the fences of private enterprise. Pull the folks off (if they want to go), stand down and putter your over-horsed taxpayer -financed craft home, I say.

Back in the early 1980s the Coast Guard reviewed its policies regarding the assistance it gave disabled vessels. What resulted was a plan of action that largely deferred to commercial towing and salvage companies. Nowadays, the Coast Guard policy regarding assisting vessels in distress seems to turn on whether commercial salvage assets are available. That is, if they’re available the Coast Guard may assist “if the salvor requests.” If commercial salvage assets aren’t available, the Coast Guard appears to have some discretion to engage in “limited salvage operations” provided its units and personnel are not “unduly hazarded.”

Commercial marine assistance companies spend an awful lot of time, energy and money in preparing their vessels and crew to respond to situations like the one in the aforementioned video. Sure the vessel’s insurer may like to see the Coast Guard involved because it avoids having to pay a salvage award. On the other hand, the loss of such a salvage for a commercial salvor could mean a season that finishes in the red.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that my assumptions about what’s going on in this video are wrong, that there was no commercial salvage assistance available and that the Coasties were within their policies. I’d welcome some background on the situation and in my next blog, I'll address whether the Coast Guard is entitled to reimbursement when it renders assistance. Underway and making way.

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