Boats that get a little too close to cruise ships and ferries in Southeast Alaska this summer might get to see and hear a new warning signal used by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The signal is fired from a 12 gauge shotgun and will be used when boaters do not respond to a Coast Guard vessel’s lights, sirens or radio.

Ensign Dwight Schaffer, assistant chief of enforcement with the Coast Guard in Juneau, says the signal looks and sounds like a firework. “It’s a bright orange flash with a loud bang. It’s definitely bright and it’s significant in volume so it’s definitely a good tool to get the boater’s attention.”

U.S. Coast Guard cutter Anacapa (photo courtesy of the Coast Guard)

U.S. Coast Guard cutter Anacapa (photo courtesy of the Coast Guard)

In Southeast Alaska, guard crews are training on the new signals this spring. They’re already in use in the Juneau area and should be an option for crews in the Ketchikan area in the next month.
Smaller boats are asked to keep at least 100 yards away from ferries and cruise ships in transit.

Schaffer says some boats in the past have not responded to sirens or horns. “The best course of action is just to stay well clear of any sort of high capacity passenger vessel, that’s cruise ships and ferries, just maintain plenty of distance. 100 yards is the bare minimum but we ask to maintain as much distance as possible in an effort to not have to deploy this device.”

The “L-A 51,” as it’s called, is being implemented by the Coast Guard nationwide for vessel security. It has been used for several years for migrant patrols and drug enforcement operations offshore.