- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) — The Coast Guard is considering equipping vessels with bullhorns — as loud as a jet engine 100 feet away — to alert wayward boaters.

Officers recently tested the 134-decibel bullhorns at the Coast Guard’s station at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach and are considering installing them in the next few years.

Senior Chief Petty Officer John Buchanan plugged his ears with orange stoppers before sending a pre-recorded message over the six-speaker sound system.

“You are approaching a restricted zone,” the gruff, recorded voice boomed. “Do not come any closer. Turn around and leave this area immediately.”

The message is followed by the final, more urgent: “You are to leave this area immediately, or severe action will be taken to remove you.”

The bullhorns are a new weapon against terrorism, too, because the warnings would be broadcast to boaters who wander into security zones, such as the area around Naval Station Norfolk.

They also will be used on boats that get too close when a Coast Guard vessel is escorting a propane tanker or a cruise ship.

The bullhorns, or loudspeakers, are called the Sound Commander 3600, and they can project their messages up to a mile and a half, according to the manufacturer.

The bullhorns now on Coast Guard vessels reach only 75 or 100 feet on a good day, Petty Officer Buchanan said. When a boat does not abide by a warning, Coast Guard chiefs have to judge whether a boater is set on attack.

“The hardest thing is interpreting the mariner’s intent,” said Petty Officer Buchanan, who commands the Coast Guard Cutter Cochito. “Is Dad just coming back from striper fishing in a hurry? Or is someone out to do harm? So many people don’t have radios in their boat, so they don’t get the warning.”

That uncertainty has led to tense standoffs with civilians, who usually just aren’t paying attention. The Coast Guard vessel will try to intercept a boat that continues its course, running a collision course to force it to stop.

“It’s risky because you have two boats coming right at each other, and it happens all the time,” Petty Officer Buchanan said.

Coast Guard officials and researchers at Penn State University are testing the equipment to make sure it won’t hurt anyone, said Coast Guard Lt. Gene Maestas. So far, it has performed safely and effectively in tests, he said.

It could take a couple of years before the equipment is approved and available for the ships, Petty Officer Buchanan said. Each sound system will cost $15,000 to $19,000.

“It’s pretty simple technology,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”

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