Friday, January 18, 2013

1/18/2013 Recreational Boating and National Sea power

   Alfred Thayer Mahan (author: The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660 -1783, links below) wrote that sea power was a function of the total maritime assets of a nation, not just the size or capabilities of its Navy. He included in his sea power equation ship yards, merchant vessels, virtually the entire spectrum of commercial maritime activity of his day. If he were writing today rather than in the 19th century he would certainly include the recreational boating industry. It was in the early decades the 20th century that recreational boating began to emerge as a true "industry". During World War II the industry and community

                    Amazon has it available for free on their Whisper net Kindle service, for about $6 on other Kindle services, paper back for about $10, and hard bound in everything from plain cover to collectors editions ranging in price up to hundreds of dollars. This book is an American Admiralty Books RECOMMENDED classic but we think that the fact that it is available for free from some sources and can still sell in collector edition fancy bindings like that other global best seller the Bible speaks for itself.

demonstrated its national defense/naval utility. It has been said by a number of historians that the airplane obscured the contribution of the fast patrol boat and amphibious landing craft to the technological war effort in World War II. While submarines played an important part for both sides in the war and their technology advanced greatly during the conflict, they were well known weapons at the outbreak. The fast motorboat made its military debut in World War II, but the first application of fast motorboat technology was in the recreational boating arena, and small commercial fishing vessel industry, and then via a man named   Andrew Higgins into commercial uses in the bays and marshes of South Louisiana and East Texas.     Link to PT Boat Restoration Video    Link to Landing Craft Video  

 If you view the first of the two videos linked above you will see a video on the production of navy PT boats in the 1940s at an ELCO plant. Before the war ELCO was a manufacturer of recreational launches, cabin cruisers  and house boats. The second video gives you a look inside the Higgins boat works in New Orleans during WWII. The first is an example of how a recreational boating manufacturing facility could be readily and quickly converted to war production. The Higgins story is a bit more complex. Andrew Higgins was looking for a rugged boat for commercial purposes that could do many of the things that the Navy would later need in landing craft. He adapted design elements derived from Louisiana produced recreational and small commercial vessels into a unique design which he successfully produced in a New Orleans plant for commercial purposes. When the war came he changed the bow of his design into a retractable bow ramp and the WWII landing craft was born. He expanded production rapidly eventually operating several plants in New Orleans cranking out landing craft and PT boats for the war effort. When the war ended Andrew Higgins had to close all but one of these plants and for a time survived as a recreational boat manufacturer well into the 1950s. The efforts by Higgins, ELCO, and others to provide war time America with a sufficient number of landing and fast patrol craft relied in large measure on the pre-war recreational boat industry for designers, draftsmen, boat wrights, and mechanics. But manufacturing capacity was not the only latent capacity that recreational boating or yachting provided to the war effort.

 In the world of larger recreational boats, what might be loosely  termed "yachts" and yacht clubs, another resource had been developing for years, skilled amateur navigators and boat handlers. The Yacht clubs and affiliated organizations had evolved navigational and seamanship, including boat handling, instructional programs and provided members an opportunity to employ these new found skills in the competitive atmosphere of racing. When America had to launch and crew vast fleets of landing craft, PT boats and small submarine chasers the college educated, yacht club trained "yachtsmen" were a ready and large source of personnel with the prerequisite knowledge to be turned into combat craft skippers in roughly only two months of training. America's armada of small combatant vessels generally had two types of "skippers", commissioned junior officers often from the pre-war recreational boating community and senior non commissioned "coxswains" most often in the rating of boatswain's mate often drawn from the pre-war commercial fishing and tug boat industries. Of course the war didn't reduce the demands for fresh fish or tug services, so the positions left by the workers in these industries were often filled by retired workers over the age of 65. This is the type of mobilization that Mahan had in mind when he defined "sea power" as so much more than just a nation's Navy.

 America's recreational boating segment was unique compared to both the Merchant Marine and the Commercial fishing industry. When it comes to recreational boating there is both an industry and a community that includes the customers who buy and operate recreational boats. From the community,yacht clubs may have informally contributed to the war effort, but one organization formed before the war around the recreational boating community would play a significant role in the war, in a variety of uniforms and roles, and aboard a variety of vessels. 

 Before the war the organization that we know today as the Coast Guard Auxiliary was called the Coast Guard Reserve. The original "Coast Guard Reserve" followed much the same model as the Coast Guard Auxiliary today with members paying for their uniforms and furnishing their own boats, radio stations, and air craft or "facilities" as they are referred to when under volunteer orders from the Coast Guard. At the outset of the war this "original reserve" under the Treasury Department split into two distinct organizations with the older members and their privately owned "facilities" becoming the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and many of the military age members joining the "Coast Guard Reserve" modeled after the reserve components then under the "War Department" , later the Department of Defense. 

 There was and remains however, one critical difference between the Coast Guard Reserve and the other armed forces reserves. In law the Coast Guard has the power to enroll "Temporary Reservists" (TRs). During WWII this was used to get around the law that allows the Auxiliary and Auxiliary members to augment Coast Guard missions except combat, close combat support, and armed law enforcement. Auxiliary units provided trained crews and ready boats for near coastal anti submarine warfare patrols. The Auxiliary crews could simply volunteer for temporary reserve status   and could instantly mount guns and depth charges and dash off for a long weekend patrol looking for enemy subs off of the U.S. coast. A unique aspect of this law stated that temporary reservists (TRs)were eligible to receive only such compensation as agreed upon, not the active duty pay scales of the regular service which regularly constituted reserve members had to receive by law when placed on active duty. 

 The large anti submarine warfare (ASW) fleet manned by the Auxiliaries /TRs was called the "Corsair Fleet" probably because the boats were of such non standard and variety of design with a hodgepodge of ad hoc weaponry  and often a hodgepodge of uniforms. Elements of this fleet had a rather piratical air about them. The crews were most often not paid but when several of them went missing or were lost were generally accorded the detention or death benefits of the regular service. The Corsair Fleet was not the only boat and manpower contribution of the Coast Guard Auxiliary to the war. A number of Auxiliary over aged volunteers with their boats entered the Philippines as seconded Army personnel under General MacArthur and provided near shore and inshore boat transport services in the islands as the last of the Japanese were cleaned out and the government of the Philippines was re-established. 

 Another use of the Coast Guard made out of the TR organization in WWII was the organization of U.S. harbor pilots into a seamless Coast Guard run harbor/port security organization.During the war many state pilots were inducted into the Coast Guards' temporary reserve, wore the Coast Guard uniform, were assigned Coast Guard ranks but continued to work as state pilots under their civilian pay scales but had their operations seamlessly enfolded with the Coast Guards' port security apparatus. They were accorded Coast Guard training and briefings on what to be aware of, secure radio channels or codes to communicate with. When these pilots were placed aboard vessels the Coast Guard deemed to be at particular risk so as to require an escort, the pilots aboard had a place in the escort chain of command and the ability to securely communicate with the armed elements of the escort. All of this was acquired at no labor costs to the United States because of the TR system that grew directly out of the Auxiliary. The TR system has not been used again since WWII. But it still exists in law, a latent tool for the national defense.

 So far we have simply described national defense and security contributions of the recreational boating industry and community, not what they contribute to Merchant Marine resiliency. For that contribution we need to look at the economics of the industry rather than military history. A recreational boat builder provides employment to boat wrights and related craftsmen, designers and marine draftsmen whether or not the builder produces 110' motor yachts or canoes but obviously the type and size of vessel produced does have a relationship to the relevancy of the employed skill sets to the emergency production of deep draft ocean ships. Obviously the larger the vessel type manufactured the more likely that significant transferable ship building skills are employed.

 For the following facts we relied on the Coast Guards' recreational boating statistics as contained in their reports of 2010 and 2011. The analysis and publication of the the 2012 figures isn't complete at this writing. In 2010 American had 12,438,926 motor boats registered for recreational use. This was a 2.2% reduction from 2009 which recorded 12, 721,541 such registrations. The reduction continued in 2011 to a total of motorboat registrations of 11, 326, 848. We believe two things are driving this reduction, higher fuel costs and the generally depressed economy causing many families to economize. Motorboats are very expensive "toys". Some families did eliminated motorboats from their lives shifted to sail only or paddle boats such as canoes or kayaks. Relative few states register non motor boats but the count of registrations from those that do show an increase between 2010 and 2012 in registrations of rowboats, sailboats, canoes, and kayaks. The overall total for non motor propelled vessel registrations in 2010 was 841,600 while in 2011 such registrations rose to 847, 087. In terms of vessel size and propulsion systems America's recreational boat fleet is downsizing. This probably means some reduction in the number of skilled craftsmen and technicians with real cross over shipbuilding skills being supported. However as of 2011 over 11, million motor boats and 847,087 non motor propelled registered vessels provided a lot of employment to boat wrights, boat carpenters, fiberglass technicians, fitters, painters, draftsmen and designers including more than a few naval architects.

 According to the National Marine Manufacturers association there were $30.8 billion in recreational boating sales and services sold in 2009, the latest published figures we were able to find. That over $30 billion sales figure was produced by 18, 940 business organizations employing 154, 300 people. We were not able to accurately break down that employment into categories like sales, accounting, technicians, and craftsmen. Our obvious interest for our analytic purpose being the craftsmen and technicians with cross over skills for ship building. But we think it safe to to conclude that the recreational boating industry is a serious contributor to the national economy in terms of employment and general economic impact which exceeds just the sales figure for goods and services. The Recreational Marine research center reports that in 2009 $21 billion was spent by boaters on boat trip related expenses. With an employment level in excess of 150,000 nationally, despite our inability to break out exact figures, we believe that it would be quite a conservative estimate to say that the recreational boating industry probably provides employment to literally tens of thousands of workers with significant cross over skills relevant to emergency ship building.

 We found that government statistics for all of the maritime industry sectors we analyzed for these recent postings were incomplete, at least somewhat inaccurate, often dated and focused on many different aspects of the activities analyzed. The most glaring issue we think is the basic fact that our total lack of a comprehensive maritime policy, feeds on our poor understanding of the real state of our total sea power potential. The Maritime Administration should be studying our total sea power potential every year and informing law makers while lobbying for and suggesting a national comprehensive maritime policy. 


CONCLUSION (Recreational Boating Industry)

Since 2009 the American recreational boating industry has shown some signs of minor decline in its most important sector from the view point of defense utility and merchant marine revitalization potential; there is a measurable decline in motor boat ownership. However the rise in non motorboat ownership indicates a keen interest in recreational boating by the American public, which could fuel a resumption in motorboat ownership and manufacturing demand should the economy ever return to "normal".

CONCLUSION ( the Series of Posts)

 The "Blue Water Trade" American flag fleet is moribund, at its lowest ship count in our history and shows every sign of  continuing decline. This is as expected based on our history as illustrated in THE WAY OF THE SHIP, but the present decline is actually approaching extinction. Despite the dismal state of the main portion of our "Naval Auxiliary" Merchant Marine, the usual source for reconstitution, the Jones Act domestic fleet and related ship building industry appears to be in good shape except for Mobile Offshore Drilling Units (MODUs), with many positive signs of improving economic health if negative action can be avoided in 2013. Unfortunately challenges to the Jones Act from the usual Congressional suspects are mounting. Our Commercial fishing fleet is holding its own while our recreational boating industry is experiencing a slight decline in its most important sector in terms of defense utility, motor boats. This decline in motorboat registrations appears to be general economic depression related and not a fundamental shift in the market's interest.

 Overall 2013 is shaping up as a year in which the blue water American Merchant Marine will continue on the fast track to extinction, but the Jones Act fleets will probably hold their own with their tremendous capacity to serve as an industrial base for any revitalization of the blue water trade, or needed military sea lift capacity. The commercial fishing sector and the recreational boating industry and community will muddle through the new year able to contribute to force reconstitution should the need arise. 2013 is not yet the year that the American Merchant Marine dies, but is terminally ill if its fortunes are not reversed. The medicine needed is a coherent national maritime policy. The probability of that emerging from this Congress or administration is poorer than a snow ball's chance in hell.  We'll take the nation's sea power pulse again around mid year. Meanwhile all we can do is let the patient rest quietly.



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