Coast Guard urges mariners to avoid approaching Naval vessels

SEATTLE — The Coast Guard cautions commercial mariners and recreational boaters to avoid approaching United States Naval vessels, such as aircraft carriers and submarines, regardless of whether these vessels are underway, moored or at anchor. The Coast Guard seeks to enhance public safety by educating commercial mariners and recreational boaters on actions they should take upon encountering a large naval vessel and alerting them to potential danger associated with naval vessel protection zones (NVPZ).

U.S. Naval vessels larger than 100 feet in length are protected by a Naval Vessel Protective Zone which is enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Naval authorities to protect these ships from terrorist attack and other threats that might compromise their safety and security. The NVPZ exists 500 yards around large naval vessels at all times in the navigable waters of the United States, regardless of whether or not the Coast Guard is present. The Coast Guard encourages commercial mariners and recreational boaters to avoid entering these protection zones.

All mariners, commercial and recreational, must maintain a vigilant lookout for maritime hazards with particular emphasis on maintaining awareness of their surroundings and environmental factors such as sea state and visibility and other vessels operating in the area. Mariners should avoid intruding into a NVPZ when circumstances, including safety of navigation, permit another course of action. In situations when entry into a NVPZ cannot be avoided mariners must first establish contact with the naval vessel or its security escort, identify themselves and make their intentions known. When within 500 yards of a naval vessel, all boaters, both commercial and recreational, shall operate at the minimum speed necessary to maintain a safe course. In addition, boaters must comply with all direction given by the Coast Guard or the naval vessel inside the 500-yard zone. No vessel or person may approach within 100 yards of the naval vessel unless authorized by the Coast Guard or the naval vessel. Large naval vessels and their security escorts are authorized to employ force, including deadly force, to protect these vessels. Violation of a NVPZ is a felony offense punishable by up to 6 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.

The Code of Federal Regulations describes naval vessel protective zones as follows:

A Naval Vessel Protection Zone is a 500-yard regulated area of water surrounding a large U.S. naval vessel providing for the safety or security of the vessel. 33 CFR 165.2015. Section 91 of 14 U.S.C. authorizes the Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, to control the anchorage and movement of any vessel in the navigable waters of the United States to ensure the safety or security of any U.S. naval vessel in those waters. When the Secretary does not exercise this authority, and immediate action is required, 14 U.S.C. 91 authorizes the senior naval officer present in command to control the anchorage or movement of any vessel in the navigable waters of the United States to ensure the safety or security of any U.S. naval vessel under the officer’s command.

To establish contact with a large naval vessel or its security escort to request authorization to transit through a naval vessel protection zone, contact the Coast Guard escort patrol commander or the naval vessel on VHF-FM channel 16 or 13. The Coast Guard’s vessel traffic service can also assist mariners in complying with NVPZ regulations.

Mariners can learn more about naval vessel protective zones and other important information related to navigational safety from the 2009 Thirteenth Coast Guard District special notice to mariners available at the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center website: http://www.uscg.mil/d13/dpw/docs/2009SLNM.pdf

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